Under the Bridge review: Lily Gladstone stars in true crime drama that gets under the skin of small-town life

Television: Killers of the Flower Moon star doesn’t get enough to do here, but the show still feels chillingly real

Lily Gladstone struggles to bring her character to life in the early episodes. Photograph: Getty Images

Thrillers centred on the murder of a child or teenager make for gruelling viewing – even more so when the perpetrators are adolescents, too. That is the gristly scenario at play in Under the Bridge (Disney+, from Wednesday) a bleak true crime miniseries starring Killers of the Flower Moon Oscar nominee Lily Gladstone as a cop in 1990s Canada investigating the disappearance of a local teen.

The 1990s are becoming television’s favourite new backdrop – particularly where troubled teenage girls are involved. The decade is the setting for the Paramount+ hit Yellowjackets, about a high-school soccer team stranded in the wild, where they immediately turn feral. Under the Bridge, meanwhile, nods gravely at a Kurt Cobain lyric (from Something In The Way) and unfolds in 1997 on Vancouver Island off the coast of mainland British Columbia.

Gladstone plays an officer contacted by the family of Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta), a 14-year-old who vanishes after going out to party with some friends. In fact, her “friends” are a group of girls from a local care home with whom she has an unhappy history – a fact uncovered by Riley Keough’s investigative journalist Rebecca Godfrey, a Vancouver local who has returned from New York to write a book about teen delinquency.

Godfrey was a real person and the author of the 2005 non-fiction bestseller Under the Bridge (she died in 2022 from cancer). Reena Virk was real too – and her death was a defining chapter in Canada in the late 1990s, credited with fuelling a “moral panic” over the misbehaviour of teen girls.


It’s far too late to protest the rise of the true crime genre and the repackaging for mass entertainment of the suffering of innocent people. In its defence, Under the Bridge is respectful of Virk and what her family went through. The show is chiefly interested in the teenage subculture that provided the context for her murder.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t occasionally lay on the melodrama. A cringeworthy opening monologue will have viewers fearing the worst as Keough waffles on about the cruel fate invariably suffered by girls in fairy tales.

Still, Keough has a lot to work with as Godfrey – a small-town kid who got out and forged her own life but has always carried some backwoods Canada with her. Gladstone is less well served by Detective Cam Bentland, who initially comes across as just another disinterested cop. Cam is fleshed out further in, but, in her early episodes, she is an underwritten pen-pusher – a two-dimensional character Gladstone struggles to bring to life.

Under the Bridge is heavy with menace, and its air of pervasive doom won’t be to all tastes. It isn’t much of a whodunit either – we know from the outset what happened and why. But as a portrait of small-town poverty and prejudice, it feels devastatingly true to life and often is horrifying to watch.