Courtesy SXSW

JETHICA is a horror-comedy that is both realistic and supernatural. Without a lot of gore or effects, it is quietly frightening, heartfelt and, yes, quite funny. It manages to make space for both of the parties in a case of stalking without making excuses for the stalker. It is also a story about the power of friendship.

The film stars Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch, Too Old To Die Young) as Elena, Ashley Denise Robertson (Taking Stock) as Jessica, Will Madden (Beast Beast, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow) as Kevin, Andy Faulkner (Youngstown, We Are) as Benny and is produced and directed by Pete Ohs (Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, Youngstown). Ohs is also the cinematographer for the film.

What’s interesting is that the film was made in New Mexico and filming began without an actual script. The experiment is one that Ohs had used on his previous feature Youngstown and worked with the collaboration of the actors. They all wrote it together with the actors and director contributing to the script as filming proceeded. Much like the way things go in real life, what’s really going on is revealed slowly and reluctantly by the characters. It’s realistic in the situation that the story unfolds this way. When you are in this kind of situation, it is hard to know who to trust after a while. It rings true. The collaboration between the actors and the director blossomed into a really rich experience.

This is the official synopsis: Hiding out in New Mexico after a freak accident, Elena runs into Jessica, an old friend from high school. When Jessica’s stalker suddenly shows up at their door, they must seek help from beyond the grave to get rid of him for good. 

I don’t know if you, dear reader, have ever been stalked, but it is a terrifying experience. Callie Hernandez brings a strangeness to her character that is distinctive but trustworthy. Both women are strong but not in the obvious Girlboss sort of way. Ashley Denise Robertson has a protective wall up against everyone that you can see in her stone face mien, but her character’s kind nature seeps out through her pores as does the tension she feels at all times. You can see why she trusts Elena who is protective and actually concerned about her during the resumption of their friendship and you can see why she’s got that wall up. 

Courtesy SXSW

Will Madden is both scary and pitiful as Kevin, the stalker. You’re never told why he’s like this, but the actor’s portrayal and the film never try to make him too sympathetic. The film shows why what he’s doing is disturbing and wrong without making excuses for it. Watching him spin in circles while constantly talking as if he had a relationship with Jessica is genuinely unnerving. It certainly reminded me of certain things that happened in my life. 

Andy Faulkner is a gentle and sad male counterpoint to Kevin and his interactions with Elena show her softer side that she doesn’t show as much, even with Jessica, at first. Elena has a wall up too. It’s a common thing for women to adopt in a dangerous world.

At the same time, the film is funny. It is not in an overt and jokey way, the comedy comes from the situation and the characters’ reactions to what is happening. No one is really the butt of the joke and the comedy flows naturally from what you observe and the absurdity of the situation.

The film uses long shots and long takes in a way that another film that I still have to review to create tension. New Mexico has beautiful vistas and Ohs uses the setting very well with the composition of the shots setting off the stunning but empty desert world. It suggests a gorgeous world that is indifferent to human beings and their troubles and that all humans have is each other. The ending is hopeful but I find it somewhat chilling as well. I can’t say why, but real terror does live in the unknown and unknowable. 

JETHICA is a quiet stunner. It’s funny without being cruel and is a film that slowly opens up like a flower. It’s also like a frightened and angry human being returning a somewhat measured trust to other humans. It ponders existence as well while exploring a new version of ghost lore driven by a horror story that a lot of people can relate to. 

JETHICA had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

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