The eight-part Hulu miniseries Under the Bridge (2024), created by Quinn Shephard, is based on the 2005 true crime book of the same name by Rebeca Godfrey. Featuring instantly recognizable actors like Lily Gladstone (Certain Women, Killers of the Flower Moon) and Riley Keough (The Girlfriend Experience, Daisy Jones & The Six), Under the Bridge is a dramatized exploration of the shocking and puzzling murder of a teenage girl. On the night of November 14th, 1997, 14-year-old Reena Virk, born to an Indian immigrant father and an Indo-Canadian mother, was brutally beaten and killed by a group of six teenagers. The horrific event unfolded under the Craigflower Bridge in the small town of Saanich, British Columbia, Canada.

The subsequent media reporting turned the murder of Reena Virk into a national tragedy and sparked debate on bullying and violence against girls. However, racial hatred was completely ruled out by the mainstream media of the time. The murder of Reena Virk evokes complex questions about bullying, racism, and sexism. The girl was killed by the teenagers with whom she wanted to be friends with, and five out of her six attackers were girls. 

This case doesn’t fit into familiar archetypes and couldn’t be neatly packaged through moral arguments. While most true crime docs and dramas try to offer us sensationalized stories of human monsters, Under the Bridge observes the complexity of the human condition, retaining the confounding and contradictory aspects. The dramatization does withhold standard formulas and unnecessarily maudlin tropes. Yet, for the most part, Under the Bridge effectively portrays different perspectives and examines larger social and emotional issues plaguing our modern society. 

Vritika Gupta plays Reena Virk, who lived with her Jehovah’s Witnesses parents in the predominantly white town of Saanich. She feels alienated from her family and tries hard to be accepted by her peers. Reena particularly seeks the friendship of Josephine Bell (Chloe Guidry), Kelly Ellard (Izzy G.), and Dusty (Aiyana Goodfellow). Nevertheless, Josephine and Kelly subject Reena to relentless bullying. Josephine and Dusty are from broken homes and live in Seven Oaks, a facility for at-risk and homeless youth. 

On November 14th, 1997, a disgraced Reena plans to enact her revenge on Josephine by spreading rumors about her. On the same night, Josephine invites Reena to a party. Later, she was severely beaten by a group of teenagers. A couple of teens from the group followed the grievously injured Reena and drowned her in the water below the bridge. Reena’s corpse is found eight days later, on November 22. In the Hulu series, Riley Keough plays author Rebecca Godfrey. She returns to her hometown from New York to write a book on the girls of Victoria, British Columbia. But when she hears about the disappearance and murder of Reena Virk, Rebecca attempts to gradually put the story together without succumbing to the sensationalism of daily news reports. 

Under the Bridge miniseries review
A still from the Hulu miniseries “Under the Bridge”

Rebecca carries within her profound trauma and sadness. It only exacerbates when she comes across a murder suspect in Reena’s case, who reminds her of someone from the past. Under the Bridge introduces a fictional character as Rebecca’s counterpart. It is Lily Gladstone’s local police officer, Cam Bentland, the adoptive daughter of the local police chief Roy Bentland (Matt Craven). The agony from their shared past and their shifting perceptions (in Reena’s case) put Rebecca and Cam at opposite ends. Yet they also find common ground and fight for what’s right. 

While the late Canadian author Rebecca Godfrey’s book is commendable for its exhaustive reporting and intriguing perspectives, one of the chief complaints I had about it is how a book built around the murder of Reena Virk hardly explored the life of the murder victim. Perhaps there wasn’t cooperation from the Virk family. Still, the language used to examine the life of the killers/assailants and the efforts taken to humanize them somehow rubbed me wrong, especially when there’s little focus on who Reena was as a person. 

The Hulu series, thankfully, offers a nuanced portrait of Reena’s struggles and desires. Under the Bridge captures Reena’s complexities as an individual. Despite facing humiliation, her attempts to make Kelly and Josephine accept her as a friend are truly heartbreaking. Moreover, an episode was dedicated to understanding Reena’s roots, the challenges faced by her parents, and how parenthood and societal outlook changed them over time. Both in terms of craft and writing, the 4th episode definitely stands out. Manjit Virk and Suman Virk (Reena’s parents) were brilliantly brought to life by the extraordinary performances of Ezra Farooque Khan and Archie Panjabi, respectively. 

In contrast, the characterization of Cam and Rebecca feels too calculatively written. The portrayal of their inner doubts and trauma is bogged down by hamfisted drama and uninspired dialogues. In fact, it is the actors – Riley and Lily – who render the characters watchable despite the humdrum writing. At the same time, the teen characters are well-written. The rage and self-loathing felt by  Dusty and Warren Glowatski shows us how, for the most part, they are scared kids, rarely treated with empathy and compassion. 

Overall, Under the Bridge is a difficult-to-watch, compelling crime drama on an act of unspeakable cruelty. Despite the facile dramatic portions, it zeroes in on some truths about human longing, sadness, and trauma. “Sometimes we take rage out on people who don’t deserve it,” says Rebecca. Isn’t that the woeful truth about us humans?

Read More: Under the Bridge: Complete Cast & Character Guide of the 2024 Hulu Series

Under the Bridge Hulu Miniseries Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Under the Bridge Hulu Miniseries Cast: Riley Keough, Lily Gladstone, Vritika Gupta, Archie Panjabi, Ezra Farooque Khan, Izzy G, Chloe Guidry, Aiyana Goodfellow, and Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton

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