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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Under the Bridge

Hulu, April 17, 2024

Apr 17, 2024 Photography by Hulu Web Exclusive
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The allure of the ‘90s continues with Under the Bridge, an eight-part limited series based on the late Rebecca Godfrey’s 2009 true-crime book of the same name, about Reena Virk, 14-year-old Indian-Canadian girl who went to a party and never returned home, only to be found dead over a week later. (Reena’s father penned his own book about the devastating experience with his daughter, Reena: A Father’s Story.) The series premieres with two episodes, then drop one episode weekly.

Under the Bridge has notable stars in two of its main characters: Riley Keough (also executive producer) who portrays Godfrey, and Lily Gladstone, Rebecca’s childhood friend Cam Bentland, who is an officer in the city’s police force. Set in 1997, Rebecca returns to her hometown in Greater Victoria, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada to write a book about the girls in the city and their treatment of each other.

This proves to be perfect timing for Rebecca. Reena (Vritika Gupta) is an Indian girl whose family are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. She hangs out at a group home, Seven Oaks, where she lived for a time. Reena still prefers to be part of the crowd at Seven Oaks rather than being watched over at her own home. Her friends at Seven Oaks are ruled by Josephine “Gotti” Bell (Chloe Guidry), a menacing wannabe gangster girl, who oscillates between her fascination with John Gotti and Biggie Smalls. Her gangster delusions would be comical if they weren’t so dangerous as Jo’s favors run hot and cold in unexpected turns. Reena leaves her family’s dinner table to join Jo and the rest of the girls at a party where they gang up on her. Reena runs away, but they catch up and brutalize her. We don’t see what happens next, except that she disappears.

Rebecca shows up at Seven Oaks the next day and swiftly tries to be “down” with the girls which is as cringey as Regina George’s mom trying to be friends with her daughter and her clique in Mean Girls. Rebecca claims she had a friend who lived in the group home when they were growing up—which we later find out is Cam. Even so, aren’t there some regulations in place that don’t allow random people to come into a group home and smoke cigarettes with underage girls behind closed doors? Why is there no one in charge here?

For her part, Cam isn’t terribly helpful when Reena’s family comes to ask for help at the police station. But she ends up rallying the troops, maybe because of suspicions, maybe because of sympathy or maybe because she’s gunning for a promotion to Vancouver. The police pull in the girls from Seven Oaks for questioning. After Jo’s mother refuses to show up for her questioning, Rebecca’s “I’m down” game pays off. Rebecca is summoned out of her dirty bath water where she is sinking below the surface and to the phone where Jo is on the line, asking her to come to the station.

The most arresting scene—no pun intended, is when Jo and Rebecca are looking at each other through the glass of a room at the police station. This is the first of Jo’s dead stares which are a recurring element of Under the Bridge. This leads to the second episode, which starts with a flashback to eight months earlier and just how suffocating Reena’s family’s religious beliefs are to her. There is a spookiness, particularly to her mother’s extreme devotion, which is propelled by the score.

Reena is mercilessly bullied at school. When she first meets Jo, it is at the drugstore where Jo comes to her rescue with some advice on safety razors. This cements their friendship, and the Jo hero worship kicks off. Also revealed is why Jo is at Seven Oaks: her mother picked her boyfriend over her daughter.

It’s Jo’s manipulative, if transparent control games that are at the core of Under the Bridge. Her tough exterior hides her fragility, but also bruises anyone that gets too close to it, including Rebecca, who is developing an inappropriately familiar relationship with someone so much younger than her. Anything for a story, but this goes too far when Rebecca goes to a party with Jo, under minimal duress, and gets off her head around a bunch of teenagers. Meanwhile, there is an angry sexual energy between Rebecca and Cam whose source will no doubt be revealed in subsequent episodes, but which, nonetheless is irrelevant, and extraneous, to the main storyline. This is not the only unrelated, fabricated side storyline on Under the Bridge, which would benefit from some streamlining. The central story is riveting enough without these random and inconsequential side ones.

The fact that Under the Bridge is a true story makes it a harrowing watch. Not just Reena’s abuse at the hands of her schoolmates and her frenemies, but her own treatment of her parents, which is perhaps the most heartbreaking of all. Difficult to witness, impossible to look away. (www.hulu.com/series/under-the-bridge)

Author rating: 7/10

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