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Saturday, August 13, 2011

BEREAVEMENT -- DVD review by porfle

I haven't seen Stevan Mena's MALEVOLENCE yet, but it's just as well since BEREAVEMENT (2010) is a prequel to the 2004 slasher.  Now I can watch the rest of the story in chronological order, with the addition of a planned third film to complete the trilogy.  In the meantime, this middle entry stands on its own as a well-made and absorbing horror tale that's more than just a wallow in torture porn.

In the small Pennsylvania town of Minersville (hmm, I wonder if that's anywhere near Coaltown) a serial killer is abducting women and killing them in his abandoned slaughterhouse of horror.  Continuing the family business in such an unorthodox way is Graham Sutter, whose psyche was twisted like a pretzel as a kid when forced by a domineering father to slaughter animals.  Now, haunted by the old man's ghost, Sutter kills his victims seeking some kind of redemption that I never was too clear on, but it doesn't really matter. 

A few miles down the road, farmer Jonathan Miller (Michael Biehn) and his wife have adopted his late brother's teenage daughter Allison (Alexandra Daddario, THE ATTIC) who finds the rural life stifling after Chicago and rebels when Jonathan disapproves of her new boyfriend William (Nolan Gerard Funk).  While jogging one day, Allison spots a little boy in a window of the old slaughterhouse and investigates.  Her subsequent discovery of Sutter's crimes will involve her and her new family in a nightmare of terror and death.

The little boy, Martin, is well-played by young Spencer List, whose sister Peyton portrays the Millers' daughter Wendy.  Martin, kidnapped by Sutter five years earlier to be his surrogate son, has a disease which makes him unable to feel pain and thus has no empathy for Sutter's victims.  We're never quite sure what's going on in his head--is he good or evil?  With his silent, unaffected manner and cold eyes, he's one creepy kid.

Mena (whose previous film was the 2007 mockumentary BRUTAL MASSACRE: A COMEDY) takes full advantage of his locations and contrasts some beautiful photography of wide open skies and rolling farmland with the foul decay of the slaughterhouse (an actual building that's one of those ideal "found" locations for a film).  The murders are shocking but he doesn't linger too long on them--much of the film's first half is a leisurely-paced introduction to Allison and the Millers which gives us time to get to know and care about them. 

We also see Sutter going through a lot of inner turmoil while raising Martin to be a junior version of himself, continuing the deadly cycle started by his father.  Brett Rickaby (THE CRAZIES) throws himself into the role and emphasizes the character's pathetic, almost sympathetic qualities as much as his sadism.  As a screen serial killer, Sutter is interesting but not scary, certainly not in a traditional slasher-film kind of way. 

In fact, I was beginning to wonder when BEREAVEMENT would start trying to be scary, until I realized that's not what Mena is going for here.  The film is shocking, to be sure--Sutter's meathook murder of a captive waitress is strong stuff--and has its fair share of gore, but it's more of a dark and somber emotional experience than a screamfest. 

Around the halfway mark it becomes unsettlingly apparent what a disturbing turn this story is going to take when the characters we've come to depend on to eventually make everything okay prove unable to do so.  This keeps the viewer off-balance and on edge as Mena ruthlessly toys with our emotions and expectations.  The downbeat and wildly violent finale, in which Sutter goes on a rampage against the Miller family and Martin finally shows his true colors, is a disheartening cavalcade of carnage that we feel helpless to stop.

Biehn is his usual awesome self as you might guess, giving us a strong character to lean on when things get bad, and Alexandra Daddario brings a haunting quality to Allison in addition to a couple of other outstanding assets.  The always-interesting John Savage makes a welcome appearance as William's bitter wheelchair-bound dad, Ted, who hates Chicago.  Other supporting players are fine as well, including a diminutive Chase Pechacek as the younger Martin.  Valentina de Angelis makes the most of her screen time as Melissa, the Sutter victim whose demise is the most horrific.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a making-of featurette, a "First Look" short, deleted scenes, director's commentary, theatrical trailer, TV spot, a stills gallery, and the film's screenplay (DVD ROM). 

BEREAVEMENT may not satisfy those looking for the fun, giddy scares of a traditional slasher flick.  But as a disturbing, above-average shocker that confounds expectations and puts our emotions through the wringer, it's well worth checking out.

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