Monday, May 25, 2015

Netflix Picks: Bridgend

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2015 at 7:24 AM

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There's nothing easy about losing a loved one. But one small Welsh town has it harder than most. Between 2007 and 2012, at least 99 people hanged themselves in and around the town of Bridgend. John Michael Williams’ 2013 documentary, Bridgend, looks for answers, but finds only grief and loss. That said, it's a fine documentary and a worthwhile watch.

In January of 2007, Dale Crole, 18, was found hanged in a park. Over the following year, another 12 people were also found hanged around the area, ranging from 17 to 27 years old. The deaths were ruled suicides. Few notes were found. And by the end of 2012, the official death toll stood at 79, though Bridgend Coroner Alan Rees says the real figure is at least 99.

Throughout the film, the people of Bridgend offer many reasons for the deaths: the media's sensationalist coverage, a sense of hopelessness in the town, drug use, lack of mental health resources, even a serial killer and a suicide pact.

By and large, Bridgend consists of interviews with the families and friends of the deceased. One family is in denial that their son's death was a suicide — it must have been a drunken accident, they say. Most are just hurting. There's an interview toward the end with Chris Harrison and Ronnie Huxford, local tattoo artists, talking about all of the memorial tattoos they do and how they worry about everyone who comes in to remember a friend. Huxford says he's also worried about his 13-year-old daughter and is afraid he can't keep her safe.

For me, the most painful parts of the film are the scenes with Justin Beecham, who hanged himself three weeks after being interviewed. He'd lost his best friend, Tom Davies, in 2007. During the interview with Beecham, and his mother and sister, there's something haunted about the way he looks when his mother says he's too strong-headed to go out like the others. Everything about his body language reads hurt; he doesn't know how to cope with his grief.

Ultimately, Williams doesn't have any answers. He builds a little suspense in places, as if maybe there will be an answer or a revelation. But the answers don't come – the coroner has no clue, the parents have no clue, the hospital won't give interviews, and a local police constable says he'll be fired if he talks to the press. In that sense, the movie feels like the survivors' grief. They may never have the answers either, at least not in this life. It's not a satisfying ending, but Bridgend is shaped like reality, not fiction, all for the better. 

Bridgend is shot beautifully. Williams' opening scene is masterful, feeling like an old British horror movie or crime drama rather than a documentary. An old man walks his dog through tall grass on a foggy Welsh morning, reenacting the walk he was on when he found Crole's body, and an unsettling piano plays in the background. But this atmosphere bookends the interviews, rather than overwhelming them. A later shot, in which Williams shares what the police told him, makes it clear that he wants an answer as much as the parents and the audience. But the film doesn't dwell too much on conspiracy theories or morbid tangents — the focus is on the survivors and the reality.

Overall, Bridgend is a tasteful documentary on a gruesome and uncomfortable subject. Grief is difficult to handle, but recent films like this, The Babadook and Big Hero 6 (yes, really) have taken a compelling look at loss and the grieving process.

Watch Bridgend. Share your feelings with the people who matter to you. And if you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Partnership hotline at 719/573-7477 or 888/885-1222.

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