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Fantasia 2015 Review: Bridgend Takes an Intimate Look At an Ongoing Tragedy

By  · Published on July 18th, 2015


Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

The small town of Bridgend, Wales has seen better days, but they were long ago. Jobs have dried up and money is tight in most households, but the bigger tragedy facing the community is the rash of teenage suicides. The deaths are well into the double digits by the time Sara (Hannah Murray, Skins, Game of Thrones) and her policeman dad (Steven Waddington) move to town hoping to find a fresh start after the loss of Sara’s mother.

She quickly finds her way into the town’s teenage collective after being invited to join several of them at a nearby lake. The wooded spot reeks of alcohol, pot and leaky hormones, and while Sara cautiously partakes in some of the activities she draws the line at skinny dipping. She also sits out the final act of the night as the young adults scream out the name of the most recent teen to take their own life. As the days and weeks move slowly forward Sara finds herself growing more intimate with the group’s behaviors and mindsets, and in a town where the youth are walking, ticking time-bombs her father realizes perhaps too late that Bridgend may not be the new beginning they were seeking.

Director Jeppe Rønde, who co-wrote Bridgend alongside Torben Bech and Peter Asmussen, has taken a real-world tragedy and framed it into a beautifully photographed, far more personal tale of loss, confusion and surrender. The actual count of Bridgend’s teen suicides is currently nearer to 100, but the film focuses on the early days before this particular “cluster suicide” became an international story.

Sara isn’t wanting for money, but starting over in a new town is a lonely business for anyone. Her father keeps busy with his job and a new affair, and that distance takes a toll on Sara when the next teen, someone she’s met, dies. Her grief can only be shared with the others, and their expression of it – ennui, recklessness and aggression – appeals to her desire to feel something vividly and outwardly.

We see the path she’s on, and while the film makes no concrete attempt to explain the high number of suicides it creates an atmosphere wherein death seems like an acceptable option. The kids aren’t necessarily escaping from anything – it’s just something to do and to be remembered for. Adults are presented as ineffectual at best, unable and uninterested in standing up to the teens’ increasingly selfish antics, and even the local priest is harassed and belittled for trying to reach out and help.

Those antics – attempted sexual assaults, acts of vandalism, wanton cruelty – are meant to show a disregard for anyone but themselves, but it also serves to turn these lost children into sad assholes. There’s a purpose there, but we’re given no alternative or variety as the teens simply blend together into an unappealing and obnoxious mass wholly responsible for their own situations. It’s reminiscent of Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown or Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge in how it drops viewers up to their eyeballs into a world of pure apathy, and the result is a film that makes it difficult to connect with.

The characters may be less than appealing, but Rønde and cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck wrap them up in scenes of stunning beauty. Frequently dreamlike, the film carries viewers into the forest and down deserted streets on an uncertain breeze. We brought into the fold and made witness to the boredom and manufactured despair, and the listlessness in the air becomes a tangible thing, as much a character in the film as anyone else. Events aren’t permanent in dreams, we can always wake up from them, and it’s easy to see that attitude entering these teens’ minds as the noose draws tighter.

Bridgend is a slow-burn of self-induced pain and suffering – kids and adults alike are creating their own misery – and while it’s accompanied by haunting visuals it remains an elusive watch as it becomes more and more difficult to connect with anyone or anything.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.