Hannah Murray in Bridgend (Fandor)

Hannah Murray in Bridgend (Fandor)

Between 2009 and 2012, a rash of suicides occurred in the county of Bridgend in Wales. About 79 people killed themselves, most of them teenagers. Director Jeppe Ronde uses this real-life event as the basis for a haunting, ethereal film that offers clues and theories but ultimately no explanations for this tragic phenomenon.

Sarah (Game of Thrones’ Hannah Murray) arrives in town with her detective father Dave (Steven Waddington). He has been hired to investigate these suicides, all of which seem to be staged so the parents are the first ones to discover their child. Sarah starts off protective of her widowed father, but as she meets the fellow teens of the town, she is drawn in by their closeness, their strange rituals, and their intensity. One sensitive boy in particular, Jamie (Josh O’Connor), catches her eye. Before long, Sarah joins the teens in tromping nightly through the woods, partying at a lake, drinking, skinny-dipping, play-fighting, and screaming the names of the recently dead at the top of their lungs in a sort of tribute. Hannah’s loneliness abates as she is slowly accepted by the group. Her father, however, becomes understandably concerned as the suicides have not abated and he seems powerless to stop them.

Ronde, who also co-wrote the film, has created a sort of inverted Rebel Without a Cause. These teens don’t lash out so much as cave in. Meanwhile, the parents, like those of Rebel, are either indifferent or completely incapable of connecting. Only Dave makes any such attempt with his daughter, but he is so ruled by his fear for her safety that he becomes a tyrant. The only time that an adult honestly converses with a teenager is when the kid is unconscious.

Ronde also doesn’t provide answers, though he absolutely sends us down rabbit holes. Are the teens part of a cult? Are the foggy, eerie woods haunted? Or, are the suicides due to the youths’ boredom and their parents’ indifference? The film glides over each possibility but reaches no conclusion, and Ronde drops clues as if we were the detectives. The ominous tracking shot of railroad tracks that lead into a tunnel, the pathway to the woods, hint at a supernatural conclusion, but the tightness of the teens leads us down a different path. (We end up becoming just as confused as Dave.) So, what Ronde really is plumbing is the mystery and the ineffability of human nature. In doing so, his film becomes just as suspenseful as a police procedural.

Of the actors, Hannah Murray gives a mammoth performance. She feels practically translucent. There is no distance between her thoughts and what we see. It is what we want in great acting, the sense that we are experiencing the moment as the actor feels it. It is the definition of acting, actually. But even with our greats, we can get the sense we are watching a performance. Not so here. Hannah Murray simply is.

Bridgend is, despite its dour subject matter, a visual treat. It is filled with gorgeous, beautifully framed images. The editing is superb, and the soundtrack, by French electronic artist Mondkofp, is astounding, reminiscent of the great scores by Tangerine Dream.

Although complicated and disturbing, this is also a delicate, lovely film.

Directed by Jeppe Ronde
Produced by Michel Schonnemann and Malene Blenkov
Written by Ronde, Torben Bech, and Peter Asmussen
Available on Fandor VOD
Denmark. 104 min. Not rated
With Hannah Murray, Steven Waddington, and Josh O’Connor