For a horror thriller, the title 'Bereavement' is a rather odd choice, particularly since it conjures ideas of sorrow and mourning before ever associating the word with feelings of terror or the actions of a psychotic maniac. If not for the poster art of a mysterious man with a knife holding the hand of an innocent-looking child, it'd be difficult to guess the genre based on the title alone — there's little indication of what exactly to expect. However, once the movie, written and directed by Stevan Mena, gets going, which honestly takes a bit too long for its own good, it becomes apparent the title is actually fitting, cleverly hinting at a loftier central theme that concerns all the characters involved.
After a brief exposition showing the unfortunate kidnapping of a very lonely little boy with congenital analgesia — a fascinating plot device used with shocking effectiveness — we find lonesome teenager Allison Miller (a convincing Alexandra Daddario) moving into her uncle's (a not-so-standout Michael Biehn) farm after her parent's sudden death. With everyone grieving over the loss, Allison tries to move on by befriending and becoming romantically involved with William (Nolan Gerard Funk), another teen that has experienced loss but whose life has plunged into a pit of endless mourning caring for his alcoholic, wheelchair-bound father (John Savage). Everyone is bereaved in some form or another.
In the larger scheme of things, and where Mena's plot is definitely the most interesting and clever, this theme of mourning also extends to the killer, Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby), and his utterly terrified protégé Martin Bristol (Spencer List in an outstanding performance), the kidnapped boy at the start of the movie. We're immediately let in on the fact that Sutter is a completely deranged and delusional psychopath who probably became unhinged after the death of his meat merchant father, leaving behind a scary, dilapidated slaughterhouse where he resides, murders, and talks to a creepy effigy with a bull's skull as the head. It's a little odd there's no mention of the missing women over the years, especially in a supposedly small town where no one can keep secrets, but Mena keeps pushing forward pretending, as if his characters don't care or even noticed.
Seeing as how this is a prequel to Mena's 2003 debut, the sinisterly titled 'Malevolence,' we can probably probe a little deeper into this twisted tale. Those familiar with the first movie know who Martin Bristol is and what will become of him by film's end. 'Bereavement' is a sad, morbid look into his past, witnessing the torment and abuse that afflicted his psychology and turned him into the savage, remorseless murderer he's geared and doomed into becoming. In a sense, the flashback story, like a slowly fading memory, is an expression of Martin mourning his loss of innocence and of being denied a normal childhood. The plot reveals a more complex and somewhat sympathetic character, which is quite the accomplishment considering who later becomes.
With this in mind, the prequel is a much better film than its predecessor, as here, Mena exhibits more maturity, restraint and talent behind the camera, tightly focused on a narrative that slowly evolves and doesn't rush into a futile display of gore. The role Allison, her boyfriend and her family play in the life of Martin Bristol doesn't come into fruition until halfway in when things suddenly spiral rapidly out of control towards a shockingly bleak and nihilistic conclusion. 'Bereavement' starts off rather slow and feels like it meanders somewhat, but once it finds its footing, it takes off into some interesting territory, delivering a surprisingly entertaining horror flick on a small budget.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay Entertainment brings 'Bereavement' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a blue, eco-cutout case. At startup, viewers can skip over several trailers before being greeted by a bloody screen with menu options along the bottom while music and full-motion clips play in the background.
Low-budget indie horror be damned, 'Bereavement' abducts Blu-ray with a highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will rival anything a big studio can dish out. Facial complexions are incredibly revealing, exposing every pore, wrinkle and negligible blemish in the entire cast. Every blade of grass and leaf is distinct, individual bricks of the abandoned slaughterhouse can practically be counted, and the killer basement is particularly dingy and grimy. The tiniest rust stain on the killer's truck is plainly visible, and blood drips on faces and clothes with disturbingly lifelike clarity.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the high-def transfer also arrives with spot-on contrast, giving it an impressive cinematic glow. Black levels could be a tad stronger, but for the most part, they're deeply-rendered and accurate with excellent shadow details. Primaries are richly-saturated, providing some unexpected energy and vigor, which is then intentionally contradicted by the dark, grubby basement sequences. Secondary hues are also vibrant and full of warmth, making for a near-reference presentation.
Continuing in the scary, twisted delights is this surprisingly detailed and dynamic Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Dialogue is clean and precise in the center, revealing the smallest intonation in the voices of actors and maintaining excellent intelligibility during whispered conversations. The soundstage displays a well-balanced channel separation, as various objects pan from one side of the screen to the other with convincing fluidity, generating an impressively wide and highly engaging image. Every bloodcurdling cry is as meticulous and distinct as the tiniest scratch and stab is audible and discrete. A notable and very palpable low-end adds a commanding punch and weight to the musical score and action. There's not much going on in the rears, but there's just enough bleeds and some mild atmospherics to broaden the soundfield satisfyingly.
'Bereavement' is a horror prequel to writer, director Stevan Mena's 2003 debut about twisted serial killer Martin Bristol. It's a dark and morbid look at the childhood that paved the way towards his murderous psychosis that delivers good, smart entertainment for horror hounds. The Blu-ray arrives with a stunning video presentation and excellent lossless audio. With a small collection of supplements on the side, the overall package makes for a decent purchase for fans of low-budget indie horror.