Bereavement (Stevan Mena, 2010)
Bereavement is a prequel to Mena’s 2004 Malevolence. In my review of that one, which I saw about four years ago, I hypothesized that it was the middle film in a projected trilogy, though I no longer remember what led me to that belief. I also, despite the film’s many shortcomings (upon reflection, the two stars I gave it seem overly generous), posited that maybe it would make more sense once Bereavement came out. I have now seen Bereavement—very unusually for me, I am typing these opening sentences while the end credits of the movie are rolling, rather than letting it sit for a few days to see if my feelings about it change—and I can confidently say that the answer to the question I posted four years ago is “no”. While it is obvious that Mena learned from a number of the mistakes made with Malevolence, he’s still got a long, long way to go.
Plot: five years before the main action of the film, Martin Bristol (Bringing Up Bobby‘s Spencer List) is kidnapped from his backyard while his mother is interviewing a new nanny. Seems the boy has some attachment problems, as well as some physical anomalies that render him unable to feel pain the way normal people do. Fast-forward five years. Allison (Hall Pass‘ Alexandria Daddario) has just moved into town after the untimely passing of her parents; she’s come to live with her aunt (You’ve Got Mail‘s Kathryn Meisle) and uncle (The Terminator‘s Michael Biehn), along with her young cousin Wendy (27 Dresses‘ Payton List, Spencer’s sister). She’s not thrilled with small-town life, but things pick up once she meets William (X2‘s Nolan Gerard Funk) and discovers a mystery—there seems to be a young boy lurking around a long-abandoned meatpacking plant. Unfortunately, her uncle isn’t thrilled with Graham, whose father (Inside Moves‘ John Savage) is, as Uncle quaintly puts it, trailer trash, and no one believes her about the boy. What does an enterprising young high school girl do? Investigate!
The higher caliber of actor in this movie certainly helps it, when you compare it to Malevolence; there are a number of decent, if not stellar, actors to be found here (Savage, of course, is the best of the bunch, but don’t let his name being close to the top of the marquee fool you; you can count the number of scenes in which he appears on one hand). The real surprise is Alexandria Daddario, who holds her own with the marquee names in the cast just fine; hopefully we’ll be hearing more from her, and in better movies.
However, better actors can’t solve all of Mena’s problems. He also edited the film, and that was a mistake; a more professional editor might have been able to whip the film’s horrid pacing into shape. The easiest example of this to point out is the end of the film. Or is it the end? Maybe that’s the end. Or… you get the idea; this movie goes on about half an hour too long. Every time you think you’ve seen the closing scene, Mena tacks on yet another epilogue. (Including one after the end credits—I no longer remember, but I assume it is a recreation of the opening scene of Malevolence.)
Since I seem to have gotten myself into a good-bad-good-bad format here, I do have to give Mena credit for one very important thing here; it’s obvious that he has put a great amount of thought into the building of this world, much more than one would expect given when is almost certain to be a trilogy of DTV movies rather than, for example, Star Wars. You’ve gotta give the man points for treating his source material as if it were Star Wars; the attention to detail comes out in a lot of ways, most of them good. He’s also put a better structure in place with this movie; the romantic subplot between Allison and William never really gets off the ground (perhaps going to a little more detail there might have offset some of the movie’s pacing problems?), but it still works, and what little we get of it feels real.
The romance, however, is not the main point of the film; would that it were. Bereavement is still a slasher movie, and it is that regard where it is most obvious that Mena hasn’t progressed in the most meaningful ways he needs to in order to pull these movies above mediocre. The slasher plot in Bereavement is much less used than the one in Malevolence, and it draws less obviously from its primary source material, but this isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, from the psychological problems of the serial killer to the setting to the methods of apprehension and torture to…the works.
Once again I find myself saying that Mena put a number of pieces into place for a really bang-up movie, just as I did four years ago reviewing Malevolence. And once again I find myself saying that despite same, Mena didn’t deliver the goods. There are some things worth watching here; both Savage and Biehn have been unjustly neglected actors for a couple of decades, and both have started turning in pretty darn good performances in the movies I’ve caught them in recently; this is no exception, though it may be in part the actors shining despite, rather than in tandem with, their surroundings, and Daddario does the best she can with the material she’s given. When she’s talking instead of screaming (and the amount of screaming in this movie is tiresome indeed), she gives a mighty fine performance as well. Unfortunately, however, you have to sit through Bereavement to see any of it. * ½