Director: Jeppe Rønde
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 95 Minutes
This is a repost of our review from Tribeca 2015. Bridgend is now playing on Fandor.
From 2007 to 2012, the county of Bridgend, Wales, had 79 reported cases of individuals committing suicide, most of whom were teenagers who left no note and chose to hang themselves in the nearby forest. Director Jeppe Rønde, whose background is in documentary filmmaking, followed the teens living there for six years, compiling their stories for this film, titled Bridgend, a fictionalized version of a very real and very strange occurrence plaguing this county.
Hannah Murray plays Sara, a teenager moving back to Bridgend with her father, Dave (Steven Waddington), who works as a police inspector brought in to investigate a recent rash of suicides among the town’s adolescent population. As Sara settles into her new home, she meets a gang of rowdy teens and ends up falling in love with one of them, Jamie (Josh O’connor). Now Sara must protect herself and Jamie from succumbing to the same fate as so many before her, as more and more of their friends begin to take their own lives.
As one might expect, Bridgend is a stark, dreary film that, even in its more upbeat scenes, carries an aura of gloom that makes you feel like something terrible could happen at any moment. From its opening sequence of a dog finding a body hanging in the forest, two things quickly become evident about this film: it’s going to be a tough watch that deals with some very difficult subject matter and the visuals are poised to be top notch.
The movie sets itself up to be something of a procedural, with Sara’s father attempting to find a pattern with the suicides, desperately grasping at straws as he tries to understand what’s happening. Early on however, we realize that Bridgend isn’t going to be that kind of movie. It takes a more contemplative look at the situation and doesn’t propose outright answers, but rather leaves it to interpretation.
Local authorities still don’t know what caused the real-life suicides on which this movie is based, so any explanations portrayed in the film would just be speculation. Rather than outright saying this is why the suicides happened, Rønde instead explores the lives of the teens themselves and hypothesizes that this is a more complex scenario with no easy answer. This may frustrate some, but I found the conclusion to be fitting and much more contemplative than just fabricating closure.
One thing I wish was a little less vague, however, was the motivation of these characters. Much of their behavior isn’t explained, and I found myself confused at times as to why they were doing and saying the things they did. It seems as though most of these kids are deeply troubled and each have their own complexities, but for them to resort to suicide over (what appears to be) almost nothing felt odd. In a film that attempts to stay close to the reality of this town, the characters acted in such a way that it was difficult to take them seriously.
Rønde doesn’t tread lightly with his characters, and given the fact that this is so closely tied to real-life tragic events, the filmmakers will most definitely draw a certain amount of vitriol from people who are emotionally close to these events.