Just before the credits ran a few sentences appeared letting us know that Bridgend is based on a true story. In this small Welsh town since 2009 there has been 79 teen suicides by hanging with no note left behind and there has been no explanation found yet. Conspiracy? Cult involvement? Ominous.
High school student Sara (Hannah Murray – from television’s Game of Thrones) and her police officer father David (Steven Waddingon – The Imitation Game, The Last of the Mohicans) move from Bristol to the Welsh valleys of Bridgend County. He arrives there because there has been an unexplained string of suicides by teenagers in the small town. David is tasked with getting to the bottom of it, so it all stops.
Sara starts at school and meets a girl named Laurel (Elinor Crawley – from television’s Vikings), who introduces her to a group of other teenagers. This group is the one in which the suicides have been occurring. Soon she is meeting and partying with the leader of the group Thomas (Scott Arthur – appeared in episodes of Being Human and The Bold and the Beautiful), his younger brother Angus (Jamie Burch) and falling for the mysterious Jamie (Josh O’Connor – Cinderella – 2015).
She quickly becomes one of them without really learning anything about the suicides. Initially she distances herself from the odd behaviour she witnesses then becomes part of the peculiar online message board, the late night nude swims in the late and the odd death rituals that occur after every suicide. Seeing the cycle of anger, alcohol and depression these kids exist in, her father starts to worry and tries to separate Sara from the group by first forbidding her to see them then trying to send her away to a riding school. Her romantic attachment to Jamie pulls her back in and she comes perilously close to being fully committed to the group’s way of doing things.
Bridgend works because young actress Hannah Murray is up to the portrayal of this quiet and vulnerable teen. She makes even the scenes that are obviously more scripted and actorly feel realistic. The entire young cast does well while the adult actors are not given much in a sort of extension of how the teens in the film see adults.
While it is an interesting film with a subject that does grab you and not let go, Ronde does make some directorial mistakes. Lots of the behaviour of teen and adult alike is rather stereotypical rather than realistic. The two-dimensional behaviour of characters makes you chuckle at times rather than stay immersed in the story. He stays around the edge of the issue and never really seriously takes a look at the obvious serious social issue involved.
Danish director Jeppe Ronde has been up to this point in his career basically a documentary filmmaker. This is his first foray into drama and Bridgend seems like a good jumping off point for him as he is basically making a film that dramatizes real events. His approach to making the film was rather documentary-like as he moved to the town and spent six years working on Bridgend. Ronde does well constructing via the film’s excellent cinematography a mood appropriate (everything is grey or dark including the weather) and does not spoon feed the viewer. He even manages to make you feel like you cannot escape while watching it in some kind of weird transference of claustrophobia. Glued to the screen takes on a real meaning while watching. Gloomy visuals coupled with techno music drive home that feeling along with the story.
Because this is not a solved case we do not get what Ronde think happened; it is all left rather open to discussion and vague. Good and frustrating. Makes it more real though somehow a less satisfying watch as it goes around the issue but never attacks the heart of it.