Under the Bridge Premieres as a New Kind of True Crime

Reena at school is looking off to the side of the camera
Photo by: Bettina Strauss/Hulu

The following review is based on the first two episodes of Under the Bridge, releasing on Hulu on April 17

Society’s obsession with true crime and the fictionalized versions of these stories is a thorny subject. On the one hand, humans will always have a penchant for tales of tragedy and loss, simply because they’re universal experiences. On the other hand, true crime takes this fascination and mines some of the worst moments of people’s lives to create a social media whirlwind. Gruesome details are talked about while pop songs play in the background of a TikTok video. Murders are exploited to gain a brief spot at the top of the Netflix charts, then disappear from the public consciousness. Because of this, there’s always trepidation when a new true-crime dramatization appears. While Hulu’s Under the Bridge isn’t exempt from these concerns, the first two episodes paint a picture of a different type of series.

Based on the book of the same name, Under the Bridge centers on the murder of Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta) in the small town of Saanich, British Columbia, Canada, in November of 1997. The book was written by Rebecca Godfrey, who is played by Riley Keough in the series. Rebecca grew up in the small town, but has recently returned from New York because she’s writing a novel about the young girls of Saanich. Gang violence and teenage bullying are running rampant in the town, and it seems that Rebecca may have had some history with these experiences. As of the first two episodes, however, the extent of her connection is ambiguous.

Reena in a phonebooth, frantically calling someone
Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu

Reena lives with her mother (Archie Panjabi) and father (Ezra Farouke Khan), but has a hard time connecting with her family because they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. She rebels by listening to Biggie Smalls and hanging out with the girls who live at the Seven Oaks group home. Josephine Bell (Chloe Guidry), or Jo, and Dusty (Aiyana Goodfellow) are both residents. Jo is the ringleader of a wannabe gang that includes herself, Dusty, and Kelly (Izzy G), an affluent teen who spends most of her time at Seven Oaks, even though she lives in a fancy home. Obsessed with mafia criminal John Gotti, Jo calls their group CMC (what that stands for is still unknown). Reena is desperate to be included in CMC, but the other girls are cruel, especially Jo, and don’t let Reena go to their parties.

After Reena steals Jo’s address book and spreads rumors about her, the girls agree to invite her to a party so they can exact revenge. The girls, joined by other partygoers, chase Reena under a nearby bridge. It’s not immediately clear what occurs under the bridge, but police officer Cam Bentland (Lily Gladstone) is assigned to the case. She’s the adopted daughter of the local beloved police chief, but is dreaming of leaving the island for the big city of Vancouver.

Rebecca sits on Jo's bed in Seven Oaks
Courtesy of Disney

The disappearance of Reena and the underlying issues of poverty, gang violence, and racism are reminiscent of an event that occurred when Rebecca and Cam were kids. As soon as the two of them see each other for the first time in over ten years, there’s immediate tension between them. Ten-plus years of unspoken words float between them, even as the nature of their relationship remains a bit of a mystery. Cam shows up at Rebecca’s house, and the two share a drink as old friends, possibly ex-lovers, and now on opposite sides of this missing-person case. It’s a thrillingly simple scene as the two women come back together after so much time apart, with so many unresolved feelings between them. They’re dancing around each other, dancing around the information they’ve learned about the case of Reena Virk, and dancing around what they wish they could say to each other. With subtle powerhouses like Gladstone and Keough, the scene is crackling with intensity. Who are they to each other? What happened when they were teenagers and how does it relate to what’s happening today?

It’s important to consider how Under the Bridge treats the victim, because at the end of the day, this is the story of Reena’s life and its ending. It’s about the loss that Reena’s family lives with every single day. When adapting stories like this for the screen, there’s the worry that it will come across as exploitative. Based on the first two episodes, Under the Bridge doesn’t seem to be interested in showing the violent attack. The audience sees Reena before, her bloodied clothes after, and a few kicks and punches, but there is no lingering on what could be called the tawdry details. Instead, the web Under the Bridge wants to untangle is the systems and expectations of a society that led all of these people to that night under the bridge. It’s a lofty goal, but it seems as though Under the Bridge is laying the foundation in the right way.

Cam stands in front of her cop car at a crime scene
Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu

Under the Bridge admits upfront that while the story is true, some liberties were taken. Based on  minimal research (so as to not spoil the rest of the series), it seems that Gladstone’s character is a work of fiction. Therefore, whatever Cam and Rebecca’s history will be is entirely fictitious. While their dynamic is interesting, it makes one wonder if enough emphasis will be placed on Reena. Only time will tell, but the opening episodes seem far more concerned with the nuances of teenage girls’ violent emotions than with reopening the wounds of the Virk family for the sake of entertainment.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Amy Adams her Oscar.

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