Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’ grapples with true-crime ‘girl violence’

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 4/24/24


After seeing her star-making turn in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” last year all that Hulu had to do to get me to watch its true-crime miniseries …

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Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’ grapples with true-crime ‘girl violence’



After seeing her star-making turn in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” last year all that Hulu had to do to get me to watch its true-crime miniseries “Under the Bridge” was to cast Oscar-nominated Native American actress Lily Gladstone as one of its leads.

Gladstone plays Saanich Police Officer Cam Bentland, a composite character representing local law enforcement in this miniseries’ dramatization of the real-life 1997 murder of Reena Virk, a 14-year-old Canadian girl whose father had emigrated from India to the Victoria area of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

While Scorsese cast Gladstone as a victim of the historic white predation of the Osage Nation’s peoples, here Gladstone plays her police officer character as a would-be pursuer of predators, fixing her solid jawline firmly, in a manner strongly reminiscent of New Zealand Maori actress Rachel House.

It’s implied that Cam Bentland’s interest in pursuing Reena Virk’s case stems not only from their shared status as BIPOC women, but also because Cam and Reena both did stints at the Seven Oaks foster home for troubled teen girls.

Disappearances among the Seven Oaks girls are deemed so unimportant, even among Cam’s fellow officers, that they’re referred to as “Bic girls,” because they’re considered as disposable as the lighter brand.

It feels metafictionally appropriate to me that this tale takes place during the 1990s, since even mainstream media seemed to wake up to the marginalization of misfit young women during that decade, with movies such as Fairuza Balk’s “The Craft” and Angelina Jolie’s “Foxfire” both premiering in theaters in 1996.

Initially, the only two characters who seem to care about Reena’s disappearance, beyond the Virk family, are Cam and her former friend, Rebecca Godfrey (played by Riley Keough), a writer returning to the Victoria area, to stay with her parents and share the stories of the community’s misunderwstood young women.

In real life, Godfrey’s 2005 nonfiction book “Under the Bridge” became the basis for this Hulu miniseries, which Godfrey spent two-and-a-half years adapting to the small screen, before her death from lung cancer in 2022, at the age of 54.

Two episodes into “Under the Bridge,” Rebecca’s reasons for feeling so haunted by her former hometown remain as oblique as the reasons for Cam’s stay at Seven Oaks when she was younger, in that they’re probably both connected to the death of Rebecca’s brother Gabe, whose absence is alluded to, but has yet to be directly addressed.

What “Under the Bridge” gets so chillingly right is the casual cruelty of adolescence, which crosses the line into outright sociopathy so effortlessly here that, in retrospect, it’s no surprise that Reena Virk’s murder inspired a peak in Canada’s moral panic over “girl violence” during the late 1990s.

Newcomer actress Vritika Gupta also deserves credit for making Reena Virk’s outsider status feel painfully real, without whitewashing her character’s own immature callousness and attempts at retribution.

Reena’s family, on her mother’s side, was not only Indo-Canadian, but had also converted from Hinduism to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, after immigrating to Canada, making Reena herself a minority within a minority, even before we see her overhearing insults and ridicule, behind her back, about her unshaven body hair, in the girls’ locker room at school.

And unfortunately for Reena, the way in which her mother practices her religion is depicted as compounding that shame, not only by chiding her daughter for wanting to embrace the same beauty standards as her peers, but also by adopting a victim-blaming stance toward the misfortunes that befall Reena.

Although “Under the Bridge” is set in Canada, Victoria is among our closer neighbors across the border, so Olympic Peninsula viewers should find it easy to relate to this miniseries’ portrayals of its community’s tranquil pace, surrounding woodlands and connections to the coast.

Likewise, anyone who was young during the 1990s might experience a slight sense of Uncanny Valley displacement at being transported back to the Nineties’ fixations with not only marijuana (before it became legal, and therefore boring, in the Pacific Northwest), but also hip-hop, rap and electronic music.

I literally laughed out loud over hearing Underworld’s “Born Slippy .NUXX,” straight off the soundtrack to 1996’s “Trainspotting,” being used to signal that the narrative had taken a significant turn at the close of this miniseries’ second episode.

Hulu began streaming its first two episodes of “Under the Bridge” on Wednesday, April 17.