‘Under the Bridge’ Review: A Miniseries That Interrogates the True Crime Genre

Hulu's new series stars Riley Keough and Lily Gladstone, but the young talents are the real scene stealers in this thoughtful take on a horrible murder.

Chloe Guidry and Lily Gladstone in Under the Bridge. (Photo by: Darko Sikman/Hulu)

Each episode of Hulu’s newest true crime adaptation Under the Bridge begins with a disclaimer: “Based on actual events. Certain elements have been fictionalized or invented for dramatic purposes.” While that may seem obvious, it’s an important reminder for audiences who crave such stories of violence, crime and inhumanity. There’s plenty to be said about contemporary culture’s obsession with the true crime genre, how horrific events are neatly packaged for our entertainment via star-studded series or slickly edited documentaries, and Under the Bridge confronts that construction head on.

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The series comes from the late Rebecca Godfrey’s book of the same name, which focuses on the horrific murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk on November 14, 1997 in Saanich, British Columbia. The perpetrators were a group of teens, several of whom Reena thought were her friends; they brutally beat her, but it wasn’t until later that two members of the group went to finish her off. The details of the case are easy to find, and thankfully the show isn’t interested in rehashing every moment like it’s a prolonged murder mystery (for the most part, anyway).

Vritika Gupta as Reena Virk in Under the Bridge. (Photo by: Bettina Strauss/Hulu)

Rather, Under the Bridge situates its story among a large cast of characters. There is, of course, Reena (Vritika Gupta), a middle schooler who feels hopelessly lonely thanks to her Indian cultural heritage and her family’s Jehovah’s Witness faith. Her parents Suman (Archie Panjabi) and Manjit (Ezra Farouke Khan) range from kindly overbearing to painfully controlling, and only her uncle Raj (Anoop Desai) seems able to understand her. Reena isn’t interested in fixing her relationship with her family, though; her attention lies in winning over Josephine (Chloe Guidry), the queen bee of the local community home for girls, along with her cronies Kelly (Izzy G) and Dusty (Aiyana Goodfellow). That pursuit of popularity ultimately costs Reena her life.

As the crime and its aftermath unfold, another story picks up. Rebecca Godfrey (Riley Keough) returns to the small town of Saanich to write a book about the youth there, still haunted by the loss of her brother decades ago. There, she reunites with Cam (Lily Gladstone), her long-forgotten childhood friend and the adoptive daughter of the town’s police chief. Cam is a cop herself, on the hunt for a promotion to Vancouver, and the case of Reena’s disappearance and death seems like her ticket out. The event also quickly becomes central to Rebecca’s writing, and she shifts her book to be not only about Reena’s murder, but about the kids who killed her. Together, Cam and Rebecca share a complicated relationship, not just with each other but with their respective roles in town and in this case.

Under the Bridge builds quite the complex story structure for itself with these two overlapping, intersecting plotlines, with a fair amount of flashbacks for good measure, but it works to flesh out its unfortunate cast of characters. No one in this story is the “good guy.” Rebecca oversteps constantly, Cam and the cops are happy to go with the easy answer over the right one, Josephine is an outright terror, and even Reena hurts her family in indescribable ways before she passes. Just about everyone involved is difficult and damaged, but at the same time, the series makes it clear that a tragic backstory is never an excuse for atrocities. This moral ambiguity is a hard needle to thread, and the show’s idea of justice can sometimes feel elusive, but the effect of Reena’s murder is sharply felt.

That’s thanks, in large part, to the incredibly talented young cast of Under the Bridge. Gupta imbues Reena with a profound sense of insecurity and loneliness, making her death all the more devastating; every flashback sees Reena wanting to find friends, to fit in, to be someone other than the odd one out, and you desperately want her to do all of those things while knowing what happens next. As the bully Josephine, Guidry is nothing short of chilling. A Regina George who thinks she’s a step away from being John Gotti, Jo’s bark is bigger than her bite—but not by much. She’s tough as shit and has little minions who shoplift for her, yes, but she’s also convinced herself she’s mob material as a way to exert some kind of power in her dire situation. Her big threats and killer attitude hide a girl who is clearly scared and alone, and the way that the young actress allows that facade to crack over eight episodes is brilliant. Javon Walton (known for playing fan-favorite Ashtray on Euphoria) plays the troubled Warren Glowatski, and he gives the boy a real fragility and sincerity.

Lastly, newcomer Aiyanna Goodfellow makes Dusty into perhaps the series’ most heartbreaking character. Many of the kids in Under the Bridge have been left to slip through the cracks of the system, and Dusty more than most. She’s Black, she has a history of violence, and she has no family she can turn to; she feels just as excluded as Reena. It’s part of why they become fast friends, and it makes her inevitable betrayal sting so much more. Dusty’s horror at what she was complicit in is palpable, and Goodfellow practically radiates pain and guilt. She delivers an incredibly powerful performance that reflects one of the show’s central tensions, of how to live with yourself after you take part in something so heinous. Goodfellow shares a few scenes with Gladstone too, and the young actress is more than capable of keeping up with the recent Oscar nominee—their moments together are some of the series’ best.

Chloe Guidry and Aiyana Goodfellow in Under the Bridge. HULU

Under the Bridge is far from a perfect series—the fourth episode’s flashback format is the story’s one major misfire, Keough and Gladstone’s crackling chemistry ends up underutilized, it’s sometimes hard to get on board with one of the prime suspects’ crazed performance—but it’s thought provoking and deeply felt in a way that few other true crime shows achieve. A girl died, and children her age went to prison for killing her. Under the Bridge asks you to sit with the gravity of that. Not to cast judgment, not to try and solve it through the screen, but to try to understand how it happens and how people can live with it.

The first two episodes of ‘Under the Bridge’ premiere on Hulu on April 17th. 

‘Under the Bridge’ Review: A Miniseries That Interrogates the True Crime Genre