I have never seen “Malevolence” Stevan Mena’s 2004 forerunner to the 2010 prequel “Bereavement” , but if any film in a series should be able to stand on it’s own regardless of sequencing it is a prequel. So rather than seeking out “Malevolence” or doing homework in the form of investigating story points from the first film, I decided to dive right into the world of Martin Bristol as it is represented in “Bereavement”.
It is a story that begins in 1989 when 5 year old Martin is abducted from his front yard as his mother lectures his new caregiver on Martin’s rare medical condition, CIPA. CIPA is Congenital Insensitivity to Pain and Anhidrosis (a lack of sweat). It is an extremely rare condition that has now figured prominently in at least 2 film plots in the last 5 years (The other being “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). I’ll pause here to address any and all screenwriters out there who might be tempted by the device of CIPA…No, no, that’ll be quite enough of that.
It turns out Martin has fallen into the hands of a pretty deranged fellow named Graham Sutter. Mr. Sutter is partial to the kidnapping and murder of teen girls that he finds along the rural byways outside Minersville, Pennsylvania. But Sutter is not invested in Martin as a victim so much as an apprentice and symbol that reinforces his pathological ideas around pain and suffering.
5 years after Martin’s abduction a teen girl named Allison arrives in town. Allison's parents have died and she has been entrusted to the care of her uncle, Jonathan, a stoic family man who promised Alison’s dad that he would take her in should anything ever happen. Challenged for truly interesting pastimes Allison quickly sweetens on a local bad boy named Billy, and becomes very curious about the dilapidated Sutter Meat Packing plant which she passes on her daily jogs. Eventually Allison decides to investigate the mysterious plant and the strange 10-year old boy she sees glowering from the broken windows. This act sets the disparate players from the story in motion towards a collision point. Alison, Billy, Jonathan and the rest of his family will be drawn into the path of the lonely meat-packer’s murderous rampage. Questions abound. Will Martin be saved from his brutal existence? Will Jonathan give Allison the paternal surrogacy she desperately needs? Will Billy bring anything to the story that justifies paying an actor to play him?
Those questions are pertinent but the very first question I asked myself after finishing this film was, “Whose story is ”Bereavement”? This is because without the benefit of knowing that this is the back story for a killer in a previous film you are left to sort through a bunch of dangling threads that don’t connect in any meaningful way beyond pure spectacle. Even this would be acceptable had Mena not taken so much time to build a multi-character scaffold on which to hang his themes of disillusionment and the psychological permutations loss. Another option would have been for Mena to keep the killer central to all the action so that the final confrontation and reckoning didn’t have to be based solely on a late-game flight of fancy by a pouting teen who was out for run. As is, the audience is left with an empty exercise that tracks along the lines of: Life sucks then you die under preposterous circumstances that have been exacerbated by your own stupidity. The climax makes us feel like we have wasted our time hanging around with Allison and learning her story because by the end she is simply a catalyst and not a principal player. So, the answer to my original question is actually that the story is built like it is Allison’s film, but it belongs to Martin theoretically, and spends time napping in the warm lap of other inconsequential characters before proving to have no consistent POV to justify all of its character time.
Despite not being what it aspires to be, “Bereavement” isn’t a terrible film. Most of its fun is in the form of a splashy final act that features enough nippley wife-beater shots to give Love-Hewitt and “I Know what You did…” a run for their money. I can’t say whether the film tracks better when viewed after having seen “Malevolence” but as I stated at the outset I do not believe that should a criterion with a prequel. At any rate if you aren’t up to date with all of the really good horror releases covered on this site over last year and a half then this is an utter waste of time. If you are starved for something new and can wade through the pretense to get to what feels like the most earnest intention of the film (that being the empty headed teen in her tight, wet tankie running from maniacs with knives) then perhaps this is a good choice.