Bridgend’s Collective Madness at Fantasia
The town of Bridgend, Wales has a problem. Its teenagers keep committing suicide. Leaving no note, both boys and girls are found dead by their parents. No one knows the cause: murder, insanity, psychosis, mass hysteria, vengeance, depression. Sadly, this is not a fiction — 79 kids have committed suicide in the town between 2007 and 2012. This tragic situation is the inspiration behind the movie Bridgend (dir Jeppe Ronde).
The creepy film titled after the town follows Sara (Hannah Murray) who returns to the town she left as a child along with her single father Dave (Steven Waddington). As the local police officer, Dave spends his days investigating the suicides, trying to figure out their cause by collecting information from every avenue available. Sara makes fast friends with the suicide bunch and quickly transforms from a doting daughter into another one of the morbid local teens. Sara begins a relationship with one teen in particular, Jamie, who draws her ever deeper into the mire. Dave strives to save Sara from their clutches.
The film shows adolescents as wild, untamed creatures with an animal-like unpredictability. They answer to no authority, hating parents, teachers, and priests. Not that the adults are remotely adept at speaking to the adolescents. Every act drives a wedge between the two groups. They take to the forest, where they howl at the memorials of their deceased friends, engage in deadly tests of bravery, and swim in a swampy looking lake in emulation of dead floating bodies.
Their violence towards each other is equally horrific. When anyone wants to leave the town, he is outcast and beaten. Sex acts are misunderstood, becoming a kind of rape. In fact, there are no couples, but a collective sharing of bodies, as if to say they are all part of one organism. In lieu of church religion, they share a belief that the deceased all go together and take care of each other.
Their unusual behavior toes a line between possession and collective madness, reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Through Sara, we see how it is also irresistible. Sara at first keeps apart from the group, maintaining independence, but their allure is too great. She soon becomes as defiant as her peers, snarling, amoral. When her father tries to send her to a riding school outside of town, she responds by frightening her horse so it runs away. The only thing that might differentiate her strongly from the others seems to be the deep affection she develops for Jamie.
Bridgend has a haunting ambiance, beautifully captured by the old growth forests, grim protestant architecture, and depopulated emptiness. There are misty shots of rail tracks that lead nowhere. Since the film never answers the cause of the suicides or the unusual behavior, everything comes off threatening and demonic.
Although the film has a fascinating premise, it loses steam. It makes no pretense of being a documentary, which would have an inappropriate avenue considering the immediacy of the event. It also doesn’t entirely come together as fiction either. The senselessness of the violence and the suicides themselves, as well as the switch from Sara’s perspective to that of her father’s, doesn’t serve the story. The film evokes unease and explores a dark side to human nature, but ultimately, it’s horror without cause and without humour.
Bridgend played at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal