Under the Bridge offers a dramatized retelling of a true crime

Lily Gladstone in Under the Bridge

Under the Bridge is a multi-layered story about the murder of a 14 year old Indian-Canadian girl in the small town of Saanich, a suburb of Victoria, British Columbia. The series is based on a book by Rebecca Godfrey (Riley Keough). Rebecca’s experiences as the writer, the experiences of the police who investigate, the life of the young people involved in the killing, and the effects on the parents and family of the murdered girl are all chronicled in the series.

Under the bridge is the location of the murder – or the beginning of the murder. Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta), the murdered girl, was 14. She had a family including both parents – Manjik Virk (Ezra Faroque Khan) and Suman Virk (Archie Panjabi) – and two siblings. She rebelled against her family and her Jehovah’s Witnesses upbringing by listening to rap music and idolizing a group of tough, mean, slightly older girls who lived in a group home.

Archie Panjabi and Ezra Faroque Khan in Under the Bridge
Excellent performances from Archie Panjabi and Ezra Faroque Khan made the pain real.

The family went to the police because Reena was missing. In private, the police referred to her and the young people at the group home as BIC kids. They were disposable, like plastic cigarette lighters.

The police officer Cam Bentland (Lily Gladstone) was different. She was a native woman who had been adopted by the police chief Roy Bentland (Matt Craven). Cam wasn’t willing to let the missing girl be forgotten and started really investigating the situation. Within a few days, Reena’s body was found in a rocky inlet.

Riley Keough in Under the Bridge
Rebecca had her own troubled history

Rebecca had returned to Saanich to write a book about the young girls of Victoria. She arrived at the time of the murder and quickly switched her focus to be a book about this particular crime.

Cam and Rebecca had history. They had been together in the past and still felt a pull toward each other. Cam knew Rebecca’s brother who died after having a terrible argument with Rebecca. Being back in Saanich around her parents, around Cam, and around the teens who were involved in the murder brought back echoes and unhealed trauma for Rebecca.

The Kids Involved

Naika Toussaint and Vritika Gupta in Under the Bridge
Reena wanted to be accepted by the mean girls

The kids Reena sought to be accepted by were a lost and broken group. The leader Josephine Bell (Chloe Guidry) was cruel and controlling. She fancied herself a gang member and lived by gang principles. Josephine played with Reena, giving her access and then taking it away. She told her to say her father had abused her so she would be able to move into the group home and Reena did.

Kelly Ellard (Izzy G.) was Josephine’s most devoted follower. She would do anything, and did, to win Josephine’s favor. Kelly was dangerously scary and relished her cruelty.

Dusty Pace (Aiyana Goodfellow) was another young woman of color, like Reena. She liked Reena but she feared Josephine more and did whatever she was told to do by Josephine.

Warren Glowatski (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) had been deserted by his father. On the day of the murder he was evicted from his home.

On the night of the murder, this group of neglected, abused, traumatized kids who were full of unspecified rage got drunk and decided to take it all out on Reena. Several of them participated in beating her, but when the actual murder took place, only two of the kids were involved.

Riley Keough and Lily Gladstone in Under the Bridge

The power of Under the Bridge came from the strength of characterization for all these people. We saw their brokenness, their darkness, their cruelty as well as their love and mercy. It added nuance to a story that, in other hands, could have been another dry, hour long documentary about killer teens.

Themes of class, race, religion, colonialism, and a sense of belonging underscored the actions and emotions in Under the Bridge.

The adult performances from Riley Keough, Lily Gladstone, and Archie Panjabi were brilliant. The kids gave outstanding performances as well, particularly Chloe Guidry and Izzy G. as menacing and unlikable characters. Each of these actors turned in revealing and vulnerable work. Combined with good writing by Rebecca Godfrey and series developer Quinn Shephard the result is an outstanding and touching emotional journey. It felt personal and real.

This Hulu series had several women directors: Quinn Shephard, Catherine Hardwicke, Nimisha Mukerji, and Greta Vasant Patel. All 8 episodes are streaming and available.

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