A stalker situation gone berserk; a cursed trailer home situated in the flat vastness of chilly, rural New Mexico; a provocative, post-coital admission of murder: Jethica would seem equipped for full-blooded horror if its wider ambitions weren’t so clearly apparent. The story’s overriding supernatural elements simmer with very human emotions. Loneliness above all enshrouds the film, defining its characters and the alienating existences we increasingly lead, while also highlighting the vital importance of friendship and the willingness to embrace the possibilities for forgiveness and regret.
When Elena and Jessica (Callie Hernandez and Ashley Denise Robinson), two old high-school friends weathering strangely related ordeals, run into each other at a gas station, Elena proposes they go back to her place for coffee. Both engaging, natural performers, Hernandez and Robinson are so well-matched that we could easily just watch the two of them catch up for the film’s 70 minutes, but it isn’t long before their reunion time is interrupted by the arrival of Kevin (Will Madden), the stalker responsible for Jessica’s sudden return to New Mexico. Kevin becomes a fixture outside the trailer that’s been passed down to Elena by her deceased mystic grandmother, constantly calling out for his beloved Jessica. But this time it happens that he’s no longer among the living… Director Pete Ohs offers up a sharp scenario that brings to mind Eric Red’s underseen 100 Feet (2008), in which a woman kills her abusive spouse, just to have his ghost come back to terrorize her while she’s under house arrest—resulting in a victim not only plagued by the traumatic memory of past mistreatment but literally haunted by a spirit still committed to its mortal’s destructive agenda. What does it really take for women to escape their abusers?
Even dead, Kevin never gives up—or shuts up, and his nonstop narcissistic babble makes him a total annoyance but also a gradual subject for pity. The psychological damage he has inflicted on Jessica isn’t taken lightly, but mental-health issues always add notes of gray to ostensibly black-and-white behavior. And while some viewers may experience flashes of guilt for laughing at someone afflicted with so many psychoses (and a slight lisp, as alluded to in the film’s title), the reality is that Kevin can be kind of hilarious. (The whole cast shines, but Madden is truly stellar here, and his character should be remembered in the cinematic-stalker hall of fame). His hyper-obsessive rationalizing already allowed him to believe he was the one suffering in life, and now he’s even able to spin being dead as a good thing, because that way he can be there for Jessica every second.
The final character in Ohs’s latest compact, micro-budget work—essentially a four-hander—is Benny (Andy Faulkner), Elena’s pale friend whom she regularly picks up on the side of the road. We don’t learn a whole lot about this zombie-like guy with empty, drugged-out stares, but the little we do get from their car chats speaks volumes about his own monumental loneliness. That the four actors are credited as screenwriters alongside Ohs (who himself takes on multiple roles, also serving as producer, cinematographer, and editor) indicates a closeness of collaboration, and likely some improvisation, which results in an intimate, unusually textured, satisfying film. Specific plot points are being skated around here as it’s best to be guided blindly through Jethica’s haunted—and haunting—terrain, while the two friends navigate the rules that apply for banishing a spirit. Part of the movie’s charm is its ability to make the familiar feel slightly off, even quietly eerie, which keeps the mood tense and the eyes affixed.
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