The reality behind this story makes it all the more disappointing that the film offers nothing more than what you can read about the case online.
Sara (Hannah Murray) moves into a small Welsh town called Bridgend with her father, a policeman. He is investigating several mysterious suicides among the town’s youth. The opening shot is a phantom view advancing slowly and steadily along overgrown train tracks that stretch toward the crowded tree line of a desolate forest. A stray dog enters the frame from behind and disappears into the foliage. He comes across a dead teen, kneeling under a tree with a rope around his neck. The dog begins to whimper. The credits pop up.
And from that intriguing opening sequence, we only get repetition and emptiness. Bridgend has questions but no answers, not even suggestions. It contains striking images but never any psychological insight. It’s a meandering, passive look at a group of teens with an unknowable, cult-like attachment to each other and a mysterious set of rituals that involve drinking, pulling stunts, and screaming the names of their dead. They convene in the woods and strip naked to float in the murky forest ponds, where it seems this deadly allure waits patiently to pull them under.
Imagine the young Sara meeting with this sinister group, experiencing bewilderment at their activities, being chastised by her dad, and subsequently rebelling against his harshness by spending more time with these soulless teens, as we see intermittent shots of overcast wilderness and derelict Welsh neighborhoods. Now imagine this pattern repeating until two hours have passed. You’ve just experienced Bridgend in your own head.
Bridgend is an actual town in Wales where an astounding number of teens have ended their own lives, and the suicides have seemingly not stopped to this day. The reality behind this story makes it all the more disappointing that, other than a vague suggestion that mass hysteria or paranormal forces are at work, the film offers nothing more than what you can read about the case online.
Bridgend attempts to offer some explanation in the form of a destructive youth culture. Secret online chatrooms show enigmatic conversations in which the teens mourn the recently passed and occasionally allude to the next death. The group meets in the woods to indulge in copious drug use, fights, and bizarre sexual behaviors. With all of these elements in mind, combined with the frighteningly true inspiration behind the film, audience anticipation is quite full. We expect to be thrilled, compelled, and disturbed.
But the movie stirs nothing but boredom. The narrative is aimless and complacent; the conflicts repeat instead of escalating or resolving. The director, Jeppe Ronde, comes from a great Danish filmmaking tradition of rich, turbulent visuals and understated direction, and continues that tradition in just fine. Yet he seems to forget the other necessary elements of crafting a darkly compelling narrative: psychological complexity, events and contexts that support the visuals and incite emotion, a deliberate progression of events. Bridgend goes nowhere and says nothing about the tragedies it depicts, or the evil and despair that lurk beneath the town.
Another film about recurring suicides in one location, coincidentally called The Bridge, is about those who end their lives by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. To me, these two films essentially deal with the same subject—yet only one speaks to us directly, gets into the psychology of the subjects, and speculates about what draws people to this location as the place of their self-imposed demise, all the while remaining poetic and evocative. Bridgend is not this film.
And so I must dismiss this completely made, beautifully shot film whose subject intrigued me greatly. What’s sad to see is how hard it tries to be something to which it never amounts. There’s a difference between being subtle and having nothing to say.
There are no extras on this disc. | Nic Champion