Dir. Stevan Mena, 2011. Starring: Michael Biehn, John Savage, Alexandra Daddario,Spencer List, Brett Rickaby. Horror.
Let me cut right to the chase. Bereavement is a real-deal horror film in the sense that it depicts some of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen in a genre movie. But the nastiness is necessary and the payoff is earned in the delicate and capable hands of a skilled filmmaker/storyteller such as writer/director Stevan Mena. Yes, this film also acts as a prequel to Mena’s debut feature Malevolence, but it’s also a rare anomaly in the genre. It’s a film that strives to satisfy two different audiences; those that love the first film and want to learn the backstory that comes before the original. And then there are those who are simply walking into it blindly just wanting to see a new, original horror movie. In that regard, he succeeds at delivering what both audiences would want with Bereavement. The biggest difference between the two is that if you already know the previous feature, you kind of know where this story has to inevitably end in order to line-up with Malevolence; whereas newcomers will probably be shocked by the grim, dark descent that the story takes.

Bereavement opens pretty much the same way that Malevolence does; with the kidnapping of little Martin Bristol at the hands of deranged serial killer Graham Sutter. It then cuts 5 years later, and we follow Allison Miller (Alexandra Daddario), a young teen who is forced to move in with her uncle Jonathan (Michael Biehn) and his family after losing her parents in a car accident. She takes some solace in her budding new relationship with her neighbor William (Nolan Funk), whom her uncle doesn’t approve of. But William also has problems of his own. He struggles to care for his verbally abusive, invalid father with hopes of one day "getting outta this town." The great thing about the story arcs of both Allison and Martin is that they run concurrently and eventually collide. Much like Mena did with Malevolence, he’s again combining two genres in the same feature. For Malevolence, it was the action heist film that became a “slasher” movie. Here, it’s pretty much a serious, straightforward hardcore drama that eventually becomes a "slasher" flick.

What sells it all is the actors and their performances. Whereas the first movie relied heavily on unknown actors, this one has some familiar (and welcome) faces, namely Michael Biehn as Jonathan Miller and John Savage as William’s wheelchair-bound father Ted. Newcomer Alexandra Daddario plays Allison in one of her first feature length roles, which was shot prior to her appearances in Percy Jackson & The Olympians and The Farrelly Brother’s Hall Pass. (She’ll next be seen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.) Spencer List does an amazing job of showing the dissolution of Martin’s psyche without having to utter a single word of dialogue. The real scene stealer for the flick is Brett Rickaby who portrays the tortured (and torturer) Graham Sutter, easily one of the most conflicted characters depicted in this type of genre film. And they’re all given a lot of dramatic stuff to work with.

Let’s start with the Graham Sutter and Martin Britoll relationship. Graham is a recluse living at his childhood home in rural Pennsylvania which is attached to his long-defunct family owned meat & poultry slaughterhouse. Brought up in the “family business,” Graham developed a severe empathy and sense of guilt for all the animals he had to kill. Having suffered a mental break, he now sees a “bull” that orders him to kill a person in order to atone for the animals he’s slaughtered. At one point, he scribbles in his journal, “She didn’t even put up a fight. The bull was pleased and another sin forgiven.” Unable to bare the atrocities of what he feels he has to do, he kidnaps Martin to teach him how to take over for him. But he couldn’t have possibly anticipated that the circumstances surrounding Martin’s “training” would result in creating one of the most horrific murderers in film history.

We learn in the opening moments of the film that Martin suffers from a rare disease called CIPA, in which his nerve endings don’t work properly and he can’t feel any physical pain. Graham was instructed by his father that the animals “don’t feel any pain, because they don’t have any feelings,” which in turn is what Graham tells the boy any time he dispatches a victim in front of Martin. Considering Martin’s age and rare affliction, he is not only unable to feel any pain, but he feels no empathy whatsoever and can’t fully comprehend the result of his and Graham’s actions. As is often the case with most horror movies, there’s always the “unstoppable killer” whom even after being stabbed and shot keeps on coming back. Here, Mena actually provides a legitimate reason for why in Malevolence, Martin is pretty much unstoppable. More so, Bereavement is exactly what Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake should have been.

And then there’s the story of Allison adjusting to the new life she’s been forcefully thrust into. Alexandra does an amazing job of letting us completely fall in love with her character and her dilemma. Hell, those piercing blue eyes definitely help. And it’s nice to see Michael Biehn struggle with suddenly being the parent to a teenage daughter. He’s normally playing the bad-ass in flicks like The Terminator and Aliens, so it’s great to see him easily adapt to the role of nice, concerned parent. That’s the thing, because of the time and care spent building upon the dramatic relationship between Allison and her family, you care tremendously for these characters and don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. But inevitably, for Malevolence to happen, you have to assume things will not end well for any of the parties involved.

Bereavement is a far more polished film than Malevolence was. It is also huge in scope, often panning over beautiful scenic views of the rural Pennsylvania land and further emphasizing the isolation of the story and its characters. Mena also encores with his scoring abilities and does the music for this feature. It’s a bit more restrained than the work he did on Malevolence, but still haunting and melancholy.

Sitting through Bereavement is not a pleasant experience, but for those who want to see a horror movie and feel affected by it long after the credits roll, then this gets my strongest recommendation. It will definitely stay with you for a long, long while. And speaking of the credits, make sure you stick around until after the credit sequence. Malevolence fans will be rewarded with one additional scene.

Fun fact: This isn’t the first time that character actor Brett Rickaby (Graham Sutter) has played a “psycho” killer. He’s the first person to go “mad” in Breck Eisner’s 2010 remake of The Crazies.

Posted by:
Rob Galluzzo
Sep 27, 2011 9:48pm
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