Middling Paranormal Horror Comedy Jethica (2023) Shambles Through Interesting Premise
First Non-Festival Release: January 13, 2023 (Premiere)
Director: Pete Ohs
Writer: Andy Faulkner, Callie Hernandez, Will Madden
Runtime: 72 Minutes
Starring: Callie Hernandez, Ashley Denise Robinson, Will Madden
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
People come and go throughout life. No matter how tenuous the connection or how long they stay, their impact can vary depending on the circumstances. The impact some people choose to have can last beyond their life.
Through a chance encounter at a gas station, high school acquaintances Elena (Callie Hernandez) and Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson) reunite. After some convincing, Jessica decides to spend a few days visiting Elena in her temporary mobile home to put some distance between her and a stalker (Will Madden). When it comes to light that Jessica’s stalker may have followed her, Elena enlists some supernatural help.
Jethica is a frustratingly fine take on the horrors and daily irritations of stalking combined with the whimsy of a spiritual tale.
Plodding plot devices and terse storytelling make it difficult to get into Jethica. A stalker that just won’t quit even in the afterlife is a premise that has plenty of fertile ground to mine. Unfortunately, Jethica doesn’t take its ideas beyond the metaphors. The stakes are low as it is revealed that Jessica’s stalker Kevin cannot physically harm her and can only interact with other spirits. Thus, he serves more as a source of psychological distress and irritation as he quite literally never shuts up to give Jessica even a moment of peace. This works as a nice take on the emotional scars people leave us: those that hurt us cannot do so anymore but that doesn’t take away from the pain, both immediate and long-lasting, that was inflicted.
Its overall message focuses on the various ways people meet, interact, and stay with each other long after they met. Jessica and Elena aren’t close at the beginning of the film. It isn’t until their chance encounter at the gas station that the duo reconnects. Through their combined fumbling of the supernatural world, one where memories of past anxieties and regrets will not let them go, they find something more genuine. Each has their own ghosts, literally, but they require different approaches to handling. The implications of a monotonous afterlife for the hapless men following the pair around adds a darker shade to their time together and after as well.
Jethica is best when it lets its leading women lead. Callie Hernandez and Ashley Denise Robinson anchor the film with a sense of wit and purpose. Both rely on deadpan humor and subtle emotional cues to convey their distress and confusion at the absurdity of the situation. Robinson gets more chances to shine emotionally but Hernandez gets the opportunity to play more mysterious, as there are more unspoken aspects of Elena than Jessica.
Beautiful cinematography on a tight budget allows the quiet horrors and sadness of connection shine through its odd story. New Mexico has never felt so haunting. The open skies and roads are marked by a profound sense of emptiness but also possibilities. Both Jessica and Elena are never given much respite from their individual torment despite each grappling with a very different emotional journey. This is highlighted in the way they are filmed too. They are either framed up close or zoomed out carrying out the various rituals of the day, making it hard to distance themselves from their isolation.
While it is certainly a unique and thoughtful film, Jethica feels too half-baked in the end. There is plenty of unmined potential within the premise that is yearning to break out but the small-scale script is not interested in diving deeper. Its commentary on the nature of relationships and how people change the lives of those they interact with, in small or big moments, is intriguing but doesn’t amount to much in the end. Strong performances and sunny cinematography can only do so much to reanimate the film that creeps through its surprisingly short runtime. This little indie film isn’t for everyone, but if you are one who appreciates more intimate character studies then Jethica may be the right pick for you.
Overall Score? 5/10