My notes on Jethica, which is out now on UK digital platforms
This joins A Ghost Waits, Let’s Scare Julie and The Witch in the Window in a recent run of coolly affecting spook dramas which have more on their mind than jump scares – but also play out as shaggy dog stories, with a kind of mumblecore low-wattage humour and spikiness. It’s beautifully shot, with widescreen vistas of big empty deserts and figures wandering through limbo, and clocks in at a tight 70 minutes which still has space for the kind of wanderings necessary to establish mood and tone. Director Pete Ohls (Youngstown) shares script credit with the four principle actors, though it feels more like a film that’s been worked out through improvisations rather than one made up as it goes along.
In a frame story, Elena (Callie Hernandez, from Under the Silver Lake and The Endless) has a backseat hookup with a shadowy guy (Alan Palomo) who asks her to tell him something about her past – and why she doesn’t want him to come home with her. She tells a story about the time she spent months in her grandmother’s cabin in the middle of the desert because she killed someone … then that lede turns out to be only a minor fillip in a weird story concerned with her Elena’s schoolfriend Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), who is fleeing across the country because she’s being stalked by the obsessive (and lisping) Kevin (Will Madden) – though when someone who looks exactly like Kevin hoves into view, she insists it can’t be him and opens the trunk of her car to show the pest’s dead body.
Becoming a ghost has only made the endlessly chattering, hollow-eyed, horribly convincing Kevin even more of a nuisance, with a side order of threat as his constant stream of declarations of love and devotion are always tinged with rage and resentment. Elena knows something about ghosts – also walking forever along the highway is Benny (Andy Faulkner), whom she occasionally gives rides to – and is the inheritor of her grandmother’s witch abilities as well as her property. Ghosts can’t touch living people but can touch each other so the best way to exorcise one is to raise another spectre to murder the troublesome spirit – but Kevin isn’t got rid of that easily. The story spirals out, with foreshadowed turns and unexpected kinks alike – but the film connects because of its relationships … Elena trying to help her friend, Kevin ploughing on with his obsession.
The sparseness of the scenery – grandmother left Elena the most functionally basic cabin ever seen in a horror film – and the dryness of the wit makes this slide past easily – but it’s got a lot going on under the surface.
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