Movie Review: BETHANY

BETHANY is the latest in a long line of supernatural thrillers that pit a broken family against a ghostly entity. As per usual, the entity is a creepy, long-haired girl that defies physics and the laws of dimensionality, extending her arms through walls, squeezing through tight spaces and generally appearing in places where you would prefer a creepy, long-haired girl not to appear. But what sets BETHANY apart from other films of her ilk? 

After the death of her abusive mother, Claire (Stefanie Estes) and her husband Aaron (Zack Ward) move into the house where she grew up. Painful memories begin to resurface, and Claire's sanity quickly fades as the mysterious figure of her childhood imaginary friend haunts her in dreams and visions. Aaron and Claire's psychiatrist Dr. Brown (Tom Green) set out to discover the cause of Claire's deteriorating condition before it's too late. 

What immediately grabs me about BETHANY is its cast. Zack Ward (best known as Scut Farkus in A CHRISTMAS STORY) co-wrote the film with director James Cullen Bressack and it's always fun to see him show up. Ward is one of those reliable, consistently working actors who's never quite managed to break his constant "that guy" status, but he keeps on keeping on and I admire him for that. Alongside Ward is Tom Green in his first horror project since FREDDY GOT FINGERED, and Shannen Doherty in her first since "90210". 

What? Whaddaya mean those weren't horror? Ya could have fooled me.

Anyways, the cast do their best to bring the story to life, even though they're saddled with some rather stale material. There's nothing here that horror fans haven't seen before. Creepy girl scares have been done over and over. When long, wiry black hair spools out of a shower head, a drain, or an orifice it shouldn't, you know a jump scare isn't too far behind. 

BETHANY isn't a bad film. In fact, it's pretty well made for its obvious low budget. The lighting is moody, and there's some nice atmospheric cinematography. There's a hallucinatory quality to some of Claire's nightmarish visions that adds a surreal, unsettling air to the tale, but it comes crashing down because it's saddled with such a tired story framework. 

The film repeats itself over and over again. There's a repetitive rhythm it its edition of scenes that inevitably build to loud noises and telegraphed jump scares. When the twist comes at the end, it's barely a revelation. You've seen the same thing happen in so many other films and unless you're a greener than green horror fan, you've been done these winding paths enough times to know them like the back of your severed hand. 

I actually found the film more interesting as a relationship drama than a horror film. Essentially it's about a man dealing with his wife's decaying mental state. Remove all the supernatural trappings, turn on the lights and you'd have a serviceable Lifetime film. The cast is limited, and there are barely more than two people on screen at a time, so it falls on the actors to make it work, which they sort of manage for the most part. 

Tom Green is the highlight here; my favorite scene sees him spilling coffee on the floor, then bending down to laboriously mop it up with tissues while someone surreptitiously sneaks past him in the background. I don't know why, but I found that really funny... I guess you had to be there. 

Anyway, the cast is a curious assemblage, and arguably the most interesting part of what is essentially a low-budget gag-a-thon that runs the gamut of supernatural cliches in its short 90 minutes. With that said, it's better made than many other supernatural horror flicks vying for your video-on-demand dollars, and if you're looking for a knock-off of THE CONJURING or THE RING, you could do worse, I suppose. 

NonSequitur