'Bridgend': Rotterdam Review

Courtesy of International Film Festival Rotterdam
Fact-based Danish drama emits the rancid whiff of exploitation

'Game of Thrones' alumna Hannah Murray stars in Jeppe Ronde's Danish drama about teenage suicides in a Welsh town, world-premiering in competition at the Dutch festival

A textbook example of how not to turn real-life headlines into big-screen drama, Jeppe Ronde's Bridgend is a toxic combination of the laughable and the reprehensible. A Danish production entirely shot and set in the Welsh area where more than 75 people - mostly teenagers and young adults - have committed suicide since 2009, it's a horribly misjudged fictional-feature debut from acclaimed documentarian Jeppe Ronde. The presence of Game of Thrones' Hannah Murray in the central role may yield box-office interest in receptive territories, but otherwise this is a picture too clumsy for adults, too glum for juniors. Sharply polarizing when bowing in competition at Rotterdam, it attracted sufficient support to suggest a modicum of further festival play is (regrettably) likely.

The picture may play best to audiences for whom English isn't their first language, as they may not notice the $3-bill phoniness of so much of the dialogue - credited to three Danish scriptwriters. Grafting a clunky fictional narrative onto a tragic situation which, as the end-credits baldly note, has yet to be resolved, they signally fail to live up to the responsibilities that go along with electing to take on such a sensitive project. 

The basic premise stretches credulity from the off: widowed cop Dave (Steven Waddington) moves with his teenage daughter Sara (Murray) to Bridgend, despite it already becoming known as a teen-suicide blackspot. And it seems he is the only police officer investigating why so many young people in the area are choosing to end their own lives. Sara's posh air and upper-class English accent meanwhile prove no bar to her quickly getting in with the local blue-collar lads and lasses, who spend most of their free time hanging out and drinking at the dark, tree-lined reservoir.

A caricature of parental concern, Dave forcibly disapproves of such fraternization - he even hits the roof when Sara edges towards a romance with vicar's son Jamie (Josh O'Connor), typical of a film whch relies so heavily on contrivance and two-dimensional bluntness. Ostensibly serious moments are consistently torpedoed by ludicrousness, as when Dave visits a suicide-bid survivor in hospital and the hot-headed bruiser ends up assaulting the hapless lad in his bed. Most ham-fisted of all is Sara's sex-scene with Jamie in the aftermath of the latter having messily soiled his pants (don't ask), the pair recumbent on a stinking mattress on the banks of the fatal reservoir. Love's young dream!

Rather than delineating a believable universe within which serious social problems can be explored, the picture lazily throws together a bunch of stereotypes and trundles them through a series of crude plot-points. Stylistically the picture is a compendium of currently modish cliches, with interiors so underlit one wonders if Bridgend has been twin-towned with Pyongyang. That said, cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonck does manage to evoke some atmospheric environments when he gets out into the bosky surroundings of the town, and the music by Mondkopf is a kind of swaggering electronic which deserves a better setting. Certain sequences here are jaw-dropping in their tastelessness, including an apocalyptic-oneiric closer which finally manages to turn tragedy into kitsch.

Adopting the tone of an overwrought teen-suspense chiller might have been justifiable in terms of mirroring the way the high-schoolers (who mostly look mid-twenties) view themselves. But the film takes place in an odd cultural and even technological vacuum: none of the kids watches movies or television, or even uses cell-phones. Nights are instead spent in a phantasmagoric internet chatroom, a website whose design (credited to 'CCCCCCC')  is as convincing as everything else in the picture.

Murray has been down this particular cul-de-sac before, as it happens, having prominently appeared in Hideo Nakata's notorious UK-shot misfire Chatroom (2010). That was an entirely fictional speculation whose deficiencies count little in the wider scheme of things. With Bridgend, there's no shortage of relatives and friends of the deceased who are still very much around, and who deserve a film which, while it may not be able to provide any answers to such a complex issue, should at least deliver basic competence.

Production company: Blenkov & Schonnemann Pictures
Cast: Hannah Murray, Steven Waddington, Josh O'Connor, Adrian Rawlins
Director: Jeppe Ronde
Screenwriters: Torben Bech, Peter Asmussen, Jeppe Ronde
Producer: Michel Schonnemann
Cinematographer: Magnus Nordenhof Jonck
Costume designer: Chrissie Pegg
Editor: Olivier Bugge Coutte
Composer: Mondkopf
Sales: Danish Film Institute, Copenhagen

No Rating, 104 minutes