Nature vs. Nurture in the Dumb, Dull Bereavement


One of the great dumb-movie fallbacks is the classroom scene in which the day’s lesson plan illustrates the movie’s theme, thus linking audience and high-school student. In Bereavement, the chalkboard discussion is Nature vs. Nurture—and the movie, for much of its build-up, cross-cuts between two small-town family dramas. In one, a recently orphaned teenager, Allison (Alexandra Daddario), adjusts to life with her uncle (Michael Biehn), while flirting with a that-boy’s-no-good local (Nolan Gerard Funk) and—blessed distraction!—the camera. In the other, the degenerate scion of a lineage of butchers, Graham (Brett Rickaby), teaches perverted life-lessons to a long-held-captive adolescent “son.” The rundown family abattoir has become Graham’s private dungeon, where he illustrates the family trade on abducted young women and preaches the worship of totemic scarecrows while jabbering crazy-guy dialogue (“How frightening when it’s our own flesh”). Writer-director Stevan Mena (Malevolence) teases at the eventual intersection of these storylines with harsh cutaways and gotcha! moments as audience members and the film’s characters brace themselves to meet one “father,” only to get the other. If the intention is satire of paternal authority, Bereavement—miraculously as dull as its title—is neither far gone enough to be funny nor well thought-out enough to be disturbing.