In The Bereaved, the prolific provocateur Thomas Bradshaw turns his acid-filled pen to an oddly perky spoof of . . . of what, exactly? The women’s-picture weepies of the 1930s, with their deathbed promises? After-school specials, with their leaden pedagogy? Edgy-family cable dramas of the Weeds variety, with their haywire moral compasses?
This thematic limbo may account for the tentative quality of much of this episodic yarn, which centers on the dying wishes of a career woman and the efforts of her surviving family members to follow them, or at least the fun ones. The flouted taboos that have practically—and reductively—come to define Bradshaw’s work pop up again (rape fantasies and blackface this time), but he and director May Adrales too often give the sense of aiming less for jarring insight and more for stage-managed shock value.
Bradshaw appears to be smirking out of one side of his mouth (eliciting cheap, albeit occasionally successful, laughs at grisly subject matter) and frowning judgmentally out of the other (cutting abruptly from sexcapades to scenes of the abandoned, dying mother). If you don’t laugh, the message appears to be, “You’re square”; if you do, you’re worse.