Bridgend (2015) Film Review from the 14th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Jeppe Rønde, starring Hannah Murray, Steven Waddington, Josh Oconnor, Scott Arthur, Adrian Rawlins, Elinor Crawley, Jamie Burch, and Aled Llyr Thomas.
Bridgend allowed its set up to sell you on what to expect from it, with the very first scene. The film opened with a German Shepard, eagerly going about one of the tasks that gives it a sense of purpose. It was clearly seeking, not hunting, and what it found was a young man, literally at the end of his own rope. One sense of purpose leading to another’s left bereft. What is a good dog to do, but stay at the side of a lost soul it cannot help but care for?
The titular setting for this film was the scene of an uncannily, devastatingly high rate of young suicides. The film, however, took the time (by way of beautifully dank scenery) to ensure that this fact would not be the only thing that sets Bridgend apart from the outside world. Wales has long been the ‘relative in the attic,’ regarding its place within the British Isles; so between its narrative, based on a chilling, real-life statistic, and its ghostly green scenery, Bridgend sought to encapsulate the isolated (and somewhat feral) nature, of that larger dynamic, in a very localized way.
Brought into this setting, to investigate these occurrences, was Dave (Steven Waddington), returning to his old County as its new Policeman. With him, came daughter, Sara (Hannah Murray), who seemed to have no care in the world, beyond her father, and her horse. Ah, but those eyes, of hers, saw far more than anyone at first realized.
While she mostly kept to herself, the local generation divide went about marking the latest passing in markedly different ways. For some local youths, this included contributing to an online memorial wall, with names like Wildkid, Lonewolf, and Maddog. All names suitable for a canine pack, save one: Buttafly – and it was the one to change the subject, over to the new girl in town.
It’s said the best way to lure a wary female out of her comfort zone, is with another female. This likely didn’t occur to Sara, when Laurel (Elinor Crawley) first introduced herself; just as it likely didn’t occur to her that Laurel’s invitation, to meet & mingle with some local youth, was that of a wingman.
It worked like a charm, of course; resulting in an introduction, to how the Wild Things are, eerily reminiscent of the train tracks scene, from Lost Boys – complete with simulated suicide, and resident Alpha punk, Thomas (Scott Arthur), filling in for the menacing charm of young Kiefer Sutherland.
Their watering hole would likely have some discouraging signs posted abouts, in any number of other places; but the scene helped in setting apart this corner of The Isles. Having the spectacle of the pack playing dead (by way of skinny-dipping, in the murk), as her introduction to their world, was likely as close to an ‘out of Kansas’ moment, as someone like Sara would expect to have (“they all float, down here”). It’s always fun, until someone stops pretending to die; but Sara had a more lively distraction, coming out of the experience.
Jamie (Josh Oconnor) was a notably soft touch, compared to Thomas, and Sara had little trouble warming up to him; but Sara was not without some reserve. She was neither bored enough, nor naive enough to simply accept some of what this pack called a good time. Not at first, anyway.
At the same time, between his first interviews, with the local adults, and the pack’s open contempt for him, it was hard for her father not to single them out. His role, however, as both a single father, and the authority figure charged with bringing some resolution, to the Bridgend problem, left some distance between father & daughter; an attention gap that Laurel’s pack was willing to fill.
As I had mentioned, Sara saw through to a lot more than anyone at first gave her credit for. What she was willing/ able to recognize, however, became something of a central sticking point.
First, there was Thomas. Hard to miss, in his Alpha role, he offered her a curiosity inducing balance, of tender care & sadism, and had a mother (Nia Roberts) that was predatory, in her own right. The thing about being Alpha, is that you don’t necessarily need to balance anything, in regards to your followers. However she truly felt about him, he had other plans for himself.
When the dynamic of the pack changed, Sara’s relationship with Jamie changed as drastically as his social standing. Jamie would trigger a chase reflex, in both Sara & the pack, that left each coming at him from different directions, with entirely different intentions.
From there, the film zeroes in on a number of everyday themes; made up to be as overwhelmingly all-encompassing, as they can only be in the minds of teenagers living through them. They were all there: the disaffection/ need to belong, that leads to cultish group think, and dangerous co-dependency; the nature of the pack pecking order; the terror that is an emergent youth culture, eager to take what’s theirs, before the current owners are even done with it; how – even in a small town – online anonymity can embolden the worst impulses of the impulsive; and, above all, the notion that leveraging one’s own life is the ultimate form of youthful rebellion. Consider this film, if you want some idea as to why young people are buying into ISIS. Ultimately, Bridgend demonstrated just how selfish selflessness can be – for all ages – but, also, how a youthful lack of impulse/ boundary control can take the matter to its most extreme.
I was never that young.
I admit: I had not recognized Hannah Murray, on Game of Thrones, as the same actress that had made such a lasting impression as Cassie, on series one of Skins. Her performance in Bridgend managed to bring it all back, from her very first scene. She imbued Sara with a familiar quality – that of someone constantly underestimated, as simple, but somehow always managed to see beyond the surface of things – and people – even as they searched her for signs of life. This talent made Sara the perfect proxy, for taking the audience on a speculative journey behind Bridgend’s youth subculture.
The fact that the projection of her own needs shaped what she saw, however, was what guaranteed that the journey would be a frustrating one.
Steven Waddington (whom I will always remember as Duncan, of Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans – the upper crusty Redcoat, redeemed by fire & Hawkeye’s lead), brought remarkable restraint to his role, given his character’s position, and relative size. The inherent frustration, borne of that restraint, likely made him as unwilling a captive audience, as it did us. By the end, I imagine many of us sympathized with his final solution; but likely figured that he did not go far enough.
In a lot of ways, Sara was the dog, from the opening scene; challenging us to dismiss her loyalties, with logic & reason. I, for one, got hung up on the notion of ‘no meaning no,’ being applied to a young woman who seemed incapable of taking no for an answer (or the hint left by more than one overly aggressive sexual pass). The final frustration, however, came from characters seemingly being rewarded for efforts to get attention, by the worst way possible. Bridgend was an entire County held hostage, and the terrorists won.
I was hoping that there would be a lesson learned, by the end of Bridgend. A lessoned learned by… someone –anyone. There were two fundamental flaws with that expectation. Firstly, this was based on a true story, and truly, people don’t always learn from their own lives – let alone the true lives of others; secondly, we are talking about the lives of teenagers – creatures designed to never learn, so as to better appreciate themselves, and others, when their powers begin to fade. Bridgend was as much about the pursuit of in-prime immortality, as anything else; but merely demonstrated one more way not to achieve it (to a reasonably developed mind, anyway).
While I appreciated the films authenticity (filmed entirely on location, made up mostly of locals), it felt like a genuine Welsh door was being slammed in my face, in a manner being repeated by every youth culture, across the real World.
No, the lessons of Bridgend were meant for the audience; since, sadly, negative reinforcement sometimes stays with us longer. Bridgend was hard to sit through, at times, because it was more than just a feeling of helplessness, watching characters do desperately stupid things – it was knowing that we are just as helpless, with just such people, in the real world. That may be fine for the film’s credibility; but it doesn’t make it any more likable.
When reason argues with emotion, neither wins; and at some point, the endless argument just gives me a headache.
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