A grey dreary atmosphere hovers above the town of Bridgend thanks in part to the high number of teen suicides that the region is experiencing. Unaware of the mysterious deaths occurring, Sara (Hannah Murray) embarks on her new life in the quaint town with her dad (Steven Waddington), a widowed police detective, and her horse Snowy in tow.
Getting acclimatized to her new surroundings, Sara slowly meets several of her peers at school. One student in particular, Laurel (Elinor Crawley), even invites her to hangout at the popular spot, the lake by the woods, where the majority of teens regularly frequent. It is here where she meets the rest of the group and makes an immediate connection with both Thomas (Scott Arthur), the apparent leader of the young collective, and Jamie (Josh O’Conner), who is more of a quiet brooder. The group treats the lake like their private sanctuary where they freely skinny dip, drink, smoke and build bonfires. At first Sara is unaware that the area is also the location where most teens commit suicide. Of course this changes when she witnesses the ritualistically way in which her new friends honour the most recent victim who took their own life.
Taking the narrative straight from the headlines, writer/director Jeppe Rønde creates a chilling dramatization of events that shook an entire town. What makes Rønde’s film work as a subtle horror film is the fact that there is no clear answer to what led so many teens into such a melancholy state. The mysterious Bridgend suicide incidents peaked between 2007 and 2009, when almost all of the deaths were by hanging, but continued all the way up to 2012. Cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck gives the film a haunting feel that is not easily forgotten. Jønck’s use of natural lighting and shadows in the forest catch the viewer’s eye from the opening frame of the piece. He also effectively uses shots through window panes to emphasize the subtle sense of distance with the rest of the world that the characters feel as they observe unfolding events.
The ensemble cast handles their roles well. Hannah Murray, of Skins and Game of Thrones fame, is captivating in the way she portrays Sara’s growth over the course of the film while slowly being drawn into the group. Adrian Rawlins is notable in a smaller role as the local Vicar and Jamie’s dad. He tries to reach out to the teens, to offer support from the Church, but is mocked by the group as Jamie stands by quietly.
Bridgend is an eerie film that brings the viewer deeper into the increasingly dangerous groupthink of the teens. Their rebellious activities may seem fun at first, but come with severe consequence for anyone showing a desire to depart the circle. Jeppe Rønde presents the material fairly and does not offer any easy answers. Instead Bridgend is more concerned with evoking discussion and trying to make sense of the ideological divide between the youth of the town and the adults who are ultimately left to bury their children. This is a film I can recommend.