Bereavement opens Friday in select theaters (see times below)
If one were to inbreed Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, their ghastly spawn would closely resemble Bereavement. No horror trope goes unexploited, from the emotionally scarred youngster to the derelict slaughterhouse to the comely damsel in distress whose articles of clothing are inversely related to the buckets of Kensington Gore being sloshed about.
Writer-director Stevan Mena’s latest splatterfest is a prequel to his 2004 debut, Malevolence, a fave on the horror film festival circuit. Whereas Malevolence takes place 10 years after the kidnapping of youngster-turned-psycho killer Martin Bristol, Bereavement backtracks five years in order to wallow in the grisly apprenticeship Martin, who suffers from congenital insensitivity to pain, served under his gonzo captor, Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby).
For reasons that are never explained, Sutter has also been abducting and butchering young women in and around the sleepy borough of Minersville, Pa., for years without arousing any suspicions. Indeed, when 17-year-old Allison (Alexandra Daddario) moves to town following the death of her parents to live with her uncle Jon and aunt Karen, they make nary a mention of the dwindling maiden population as Allison takes up jogging alone down secondary highways. Indeed, Uncle Jon (Michael Biehn) seems more distracted by Allison’s flirtations with William, a motorcycle-riding rube, than the fact that she might end up on the back of a milk carton.
Unfortunately for Allison, stupidity proves genetic. When she trots past Sutter’s Meat & Poultry Plant one day and spies a young boy standing in a broken window, she doesn’t call the police, child protective services, Uncle Jon or Batman. Instead, the horror gods dictate that she venture in alone, setting off a chain reaction of climactic carnage.
Despite Mena’s stated desire to develop an emotional connection with the characters, they are essentially cardboard cutouts existing purely to fill predefined functions. For most of its two-hour running time (Mena’s original cut reportedly exceeded three hours) the narrative oscillates back and forth between Allison and her travails with teen angst, and Sutter and his interminable, hollow rants directed to his late father’s apparition and a mounted longhorn steer skull (you read that right).
Bereavement pays off with an audacious finale that will sate any audience’s bloodlust, even though it’s capped by the worst crime scene investigation this side of The Usual Suspects. Mena’s knowledge and dedication to the horror genre is earnest, but how much value is there in being a poor man’s Eli Roth?