film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb


Review: ‘Under the Bridge’ Is a Must-Watch True Crime Series That Gives the Victim a Voice

By Sara Clements | TV | April 17, 2024 |

By Sara Clements | TV | April 17, 2024 |


The school photo of 14-year-old Reena Virk is familiar to most Canadians. That photograph would forever be linked to a crime that is often called a national tragedy. A murder in November 1997 that continues to haunt Vancouver Island. But who was Reena Virk? The new Hulu series, Under the Bridge, based on the Rebecca Godfrey novel of the same name, aims to answer that question. Unlike most true crime dramas, Reena’s murder is just a tragic footnote in her story. What matters is the human being behind the headlines. Quinn Shephard’s series is shattering to the core. Tackling very heavy topics, it’s a harrowing and heartbreaking story about lost, broken, and stolen people. It’s a love letter to Reena Virk and her family. It gives the victim a voice.

Reena (Vritika Gupta) was just a teenage girl trying to fit in. Set in Saanich, British Columbia, outside of Victoria, Reena was the daughter of an Indian immigrant father and an Indian-Canadian mother. In school, the teen was bullied relentlessly by her peers over everything from her appearance to her ethnicity. Lonely and without anyone to call a friend, she latched onto the first group who paid her any attention. We are introduced to the “Seven Oaks Girls,” named after the youth home they reside in. Dusty (Aiyana Goodfellow) and Josephine (Chloe Guidry) are considered “BIC girls” by the police - disposable like lighters. These girls, broken and abandoned, have nothing and no one but themselves. So what do they do? They form a gang. Modeled like the “Crips” in California, Josephine, a worshipper of John Gotti, leads this girl gang with her best friend Kelly (Izzy G) and Dusty, while their friend, Warren (Javon Walton), is a member of the male equivalent. Like many teenagers, Reena feels suffocated at home. She wants to fit in with the cool kids. She becomes rebellious, drawn to this group with their freedom without authority.

Under the Bridge aims to understand these teenagers and how they could commit such an unspeakable crime. They see violence and intimidation as means of survival — and get a rush from it. They harbor a lot of anger and hurt over their broken home lives, and don’t know what to do with those emotions. Tensions get high and Reena realizes that she’s in a den of vipers — and they unleash their venom on her. Through Reena’s backstory, the series shows the importance of family, no matter how flawed, and what happens to kids who don’t have that. What happened to Reena under the bridge at the hands of these teenagers is second to giving her a voice to tell her story. We spend time with Reena, not just as a victim, but as a person.

What happened under the bridge becomes the series’ lingering question — and the audience isn’t privy to what happens right away. We are hooked into this mystery immediately, primarily seen through the eyes of the adults involved. The most important are Reena’s parents, played by Ezra Farouke Khan and Archie Panjabi. We are given a full picture of them as a family, which makes seeing them completely broken in the aftermath of this case so much more difficult. Panjabi, in particular, must capture the slow deterioration of the strength of a matriarch. It’s a role unlike any the actress has done. Looking almost unrecognizable in this state of heartache, it’s a gut-wrenching performance that also may be the best work of her career.

Love, loss, and family come up a lot in this series. It’s a thread that binds all the characters together, especially in tying the past to the present in working in Riley Keough and Lily Gladstone’s characters. Keough plays Rebecca Godfrey, the author of the novel the series is based on. After 10 years away from home, she returns to write about the “misunderstood” girls of Victoria, which turns into a true crime novel about Reena’s case. Rebecca becomes close to Josephine and the gang, which leads to very complicated emotions. She feels for these kids, however misguided that may be. But she’s driven by grief, regret, and a past on this island that haunts her. One that mirrors what is happening in the present. Getting close to these troubled teens means great material for her book - she’s not the first to profit off of another’s tragedy - but it also means reconnecting with someone from her past.

Gladstone’s character, Cam, knows the grief Rebecca carries because it affects her too. Now, the adopted daughter of a police officer, and one herself, she’s on Reena’s case. Through her, we see the flaws in law enforcement that are so common in true crime media. Cam is the only one who seems to take Reena’s case seriously, and you can see the frustration she experiences with her father and brother, who is also on the force. The theme of racism permeates the series and Cam grapples with racism in the police force, in the community, and even in her adoptive family, who often treat her like she’s just a DEI hire. Much like Rebecca, Cam feels for these kids, but in the sense that she has lost a sense of belonging without her birth family. Both her and Rebecca’s past and individual arcs make the series much more thought-provoking in their contribution to the theme of lost and broken people, while also offering opposing perspectives that add additional layers to this already heavy story.

Under the Bridge is full of beautiful, powerful, and even frightening performances. The young cast is tremendous. They carry this story and impress while doing so. There are moments where you really do feel for them and others where you despise them. Keough and Gladstone complement each other so well. They both carry the weight of the case and their history together very internally. A quieter performance is what Gladstone is known for, and it cuts just as deep here as it does in Killers of the Flower Moon. Keough is equally striking and sorrowful in her role.

In one scene, Rebecca says that it’s important for people to be remembered for who they were and not what happened to them. True crime fails in that regard more often than not in its frequent sensationalism. Under the Bridge makes sure that Reena Virk isn’t just another murdered girl. The series makes sure she’s not another forgotten victim. The crime isn’t the whole story.