Bridgend Review - Stirring, Resonating, Shocking

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Bridgend presents a shocking true story of the suicide epidemic in South Wales that overwhelmed a village as one by one their youth decided that dying was a better alternative, the soul stirring accounts are gripping in their portrayals.

Written and Directed by Denmark’s celebrated documentary filmmaker Jeppe Ronde, Bridgend stars Hannah Murray, Steven Waddington and Joshua O’Connor with a strong supporting cast that resonate in their performances.

Bridgend opens as lone German Shepard is running through the fields, obviously lost or looking for his master, the dog continues running through the small village, into the forest, through the leaves, fields until he finds his master, dead, in a kneeling position, hanging from a tree.  He lays down at his feet.

The next scene cuts to the church, a casket, the same boy, Mark, is being buried, through the eulogy the Catholic Priest brings the audience up to date asking the villagers what is wrong with us, what is it in this town that we can’t stop this tragedy now at 23 adolescents of this small hamlet in Wales have chosen, for no reason, to commit suicide.

The Bridgend story behind the film is true, at present 79 teens, between the ages of 13 and 17 ended their lives through suicide, mostly hanging themselves, none left notes, no amount of concern, caring, parental intervention could end the plague, the suicide epidemic that gripped this town.

The next scene, a new copper, Dave, played by Steven Waddington, has taken an assignment in the town, his daughter, Sara, played by Hannah Murray, are finally happy again, after the death of his wife, the two have gotten on with life and leaving Brixton, South Wales, they decide to settle here in Bridgend.

As the two are pulling into the driveway, he can barely navigate the driveway with the trailer, each time he pulls too close almost taking out the columns. Once they get into the driveway, we understand why they were so careful with parking as the trailer was a horse transport. Inside, is Sara’s passion, a beautiful speckled horse, Snowy, her love of the animal is evident, she is draw to riding as others are drawn to the continuation of their craft.  

Dave, was off working right away as Mark’s death was nearly two dozen. Soon our girl, Sara, is making friends and as there were limited options between the suicides and just the general age population, everyone knew someone who had committed suicide.

It was difficult to tell in the beginning if she were working with her father as an undercover trying to gather information, finding that sensitive place, the common denominator that would drown out the voice of reason and bring these kinds to the end and a belief that whatever lie beyond was better and in fact welcoming them to another place.

Bridgend is a small town, and even depicted smaller in the film, sits surrounded by lush countryside, a town in the middle of nowhere. The big city of course is the internet away. There really is no physical place where sophistication or infiltration to any world is not possible. Bridgend is the same. The internet has given them access to worlds, good and evil, chatrooms, created and visited, highways to heaven or voices from hell.

As Sara is the daughter of the new cop investigating the deaths, she is targeted by the core group of teens that seem to be suffering with the most deaths. She falls hard for Jamie, played by Josh O’Connor, an impossible relationship that isn’t healthy. Sara is drawn to a bad boy and she is irresistibly in love.

With another suicide gripping the town Sara meets another girl, Laurel, and the girlfriend of Thomas, one of the guys as they all hang out. Soon they are walking to the forest and they get to the spot where Mark was found. The scene genuinely resonates as these kids begin to shout to the sky, troubled, deep cries. It is a riveting moment.

The days’ pass and Sara becomes more involved with the unruly crowd as her Dad becomes involved also. Soon each of them are spending less time together and more time with their new friends.

In an effort to protect her, Dave pulls Sara from the crowd and she sneaks out goes over to Thomas’ and for some reason he gets rough with her and attempts to strangle her and rape her. Jamie, the guy Sara really likes, seems to really believe the scene he's stumbled onto is genuine. Thomas send her home with his hoodie, he moves from tough, brutal to tender and remorseful.

Between the time Jamie and Sara hook up and over the course of the film, four suicides are shown.

Bridgend is probably one of the most stunning teen drama’s I’ve seen in years, if not ever. The fact that it is true, unexplainable and the effort to bring it to the screen was hampered by difficulties that included the director being drugged and assaulted during the research only make the film more intriguing.

Trying to ascertain the reasons throughout the film, is it a church scandal? Drugs? Trying to find the thread, something, and while they do breech a possible trigger, there is never any conclusive cause attributed. And the film begins at 23 follows four and from the headlines the suicides didn’t end until 79, and even then some linger on after the solidarity, known or unknown, pacts.

The strong supporting cast wasn’t included in the press notes which is a genuine oversight. I want to bring attention to the performances, gut wrenching in their cries as they mourn, without knowing how to mourn the loss of a loved one, a friend. And how much love to show? What is normal as the friends are seeing their group eaten away without warning, one by one as the insidious destroyer wraps itself around them. Are the crying in fear? Is what takes control infectious and are they next?

Bridgend is genuinely stunning, emotionally gripping, and with all unexplainable tragedies, a mystery that pleads for reason to make sense of it all.

Bridgend is available exclusively through Fandor streaming platforms beginning May 6, 2016. 

Images courtesy of Jeppe Ronde and used with permission. 

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