T. D. Clark is back with a vengeance! Enjoy his superbly written review of the Blu-Ray for Stevan Mena’s BEREAVEMENT. And take a look at Death Ensemble’s retro sneak peek at BEREAVEMENT’S Long Island festival premiere, and our two-part interview with writer/director Stevan Mena.
To this day, I still don’t understand the enthusiasm for Stevan Mena’s MALEVOLENCE. Some detractors were put off by the heavy Carpenter influences but I simply found the flick to be average at best. A shame since MALEVOLENCE displays great locations, decent acting and solid cinematography. The end product left me wanting something far more sinister as the title suggests.
So with slight trepidation I recently loaded Mena’s highly anticipated prequel BEREAVEMENT into my PS3 and fired up the surround. As the opening credits commenced, I was immediately pulled in. While a few acts of terrible violence are employed to kick things off, it’s executed with heaping amounts of visual and sonic grace and sets the stage for what turns out to be one of the most memorable, gut-wrenching and unexpectedly beautiful horror films I’ve seen in a long time. What did Mena get right this time that didn’t sit right with me the first time around? We’ll get to that in a minute. First, a synopsis:
In 1989, six year old Martin Bristoll was kidnapped from his backyard swing in Minersville Pennsylvania. Graham Sutter, a psychotic recluse, kept Martin imprisoned on his derelict pig farm, forcing him to witness and participate in unspeakable horrors. Chosen at random, his victims’ screams were drowned out by the rural countryside. For five years, Martin’s whereabouts have remained a mystery, until 17 year old Allison Miller (Alexandra Daddario) comes to live with her Uncle, Jonathan (Michael Biehn). While exploring her new surroundings, Allison discovers things aren’t quite right at the farmhouse down the road. Her curiosity disturbs a hornet’s nest of evil and despair that once torn open, can never be closed.
Mena really takes advantage of this story line in every way imaginable – especially with the characters. They are all fleshed out and interesting. They speak and interact in completely rational ways given the environment they inhabit. Best of all? They are likeable, especially Allison who is very easy on the eyes. Heck, I even felt bad for the tormented killer who knew he was doing bad things but couldn’t reverse his violent tendencies as he battled with mental illness.
The environments these characters inhabit could also be characters too, as they are fully fleshed out, realistic locations that lend an extra bit of soul and grit to the proceedings that simply cannot be captured in a pure soundstage /studio environment. And because we know most of the locations are real, the terror, doom, gloom and beauty – yes beauty - is much more potent.
As ugly as the subject matter may be, BEREAVEMENT is a real stunner on Blu-ray. Detail in this transfer is razor-sharp throughout, sporting inky blacks and saturated colors that don’t go overboard. From gorgeous shots of “big sky” country to the claustrophobic confines of the killer’s lair, this is one fine looking film on Blu-ray. The soundtrack is also rich and robust and compliments the film perfectly.
That said, BEREAVEMENT still manages to be incredibly dark, bloody and uncompromising. A lot of good people die horrible deaths. So instead of saying, “Wow, that was cool!” which might be an appropriate reaction after a typical death in the SAW series, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief, simply saying “Wow.” And with so much mayhem occurring on screen one would think the “shaky cam” style would be the way to go. Thankfully, Mena has taken the opposite approach. The camera work here is wonderfully restrained, pushing in, floating and gliding around with calm assuredness.
As a prequel or a standalone horror movie, “Bereavement” works. Kudos to writer, producer, director and music composer Stevan Mena. He’s created a dark, engrossing and gory piece of art that I look forward to visiting again soon.
-T. D. Clark