Philadelphia Film Festival – ‘Bridgend’ is harrowing and haunting

Bridgend

bridgend-posterBridgend
Directed by Jeppe Rønde
Denmark, 2015
Philadelphia Film Festival

Bridgend is harrowing and haunting. It’s also oppressive and relentlessly bleak. The title is a town in Wales that is experiencing an inexplicable rash of teenage suicides. Sara (Hannah Murray) moves back to town with her father Dave (Steven Waddington), a police officer investigating the deaths. Sara meets a local group of teenagers led by the mercurial Thomas (Scott Arthur), and the brooding Jamie (Josh O’Connor) and is soon sucked into their hypnotic, angst-filled, and cult-like behavior.

There’s something of the small town doom of The Wicker Man in Bridgend, and also something of a slowly paced music video. Director Jeppe Rønde’s film is undeniably gorgeous. He and cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck favor dark images, with highlights in the background and the characters themselves very often nearly underexposed. There’s a lot of frosted glass and translucent, dusty windows in here, creating ghostly silhouettes.

The visual style is effective. It, more so than the grisly plot, is what maintains the mood. That mood is consistent, and also telegraphed through the acting styles, which are heavy and somber. Even when the teenage cast screams and parties – which happens often in the first half of the film – there’s a quiet pall over the events.

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While Bridgend has a plot, and there are memorable dramatic moments between father and daughter (it’s their relationship, which comes with the enigma of a past life that’s only hinted at, that is the best part of the film), at times the crushing gloom becomes too much. The pacing stays basically the same even as the film builds towards its climax, and the final 15 minutes feature payoffs, frustrating redundancies, and mysterious symbolic moments.

Rønde’s film sticks in the mind, but it’s not the story, nor even the suicides that ultimately remain. Instead, the film persists in images – a dog bounding along railroad tracks leading into a deep forest; a blurred silhouette peering through the dirtied glass of a horse stable; men and women floating on their backs in a lake, only their faces and chests visible.

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