James Cullen Bressack | BETHANY

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

James Cullen Bressack is a talented and prolific writer/director/producer, who has just teamed up with actor Zack Ward (who you might remember from the classic Bob Clark movie A Christmas Story) to form a production company (Grit Film Works). Their first release - which stars Ward - is psychological horror thriller Bethany. We caught up with James to find out more about it…

STARBURST: What were the influences for Bethany?

James Cullen Bressack: Bethany was very heavily influenced by Mommie Dearest and The Babadook. I really wanted to craft a film about a woman who was barely holding herself together, while completely falling apart. Mommie Dearest is a terrifying film that I don't think people examine enough. When I was little, someone very close to me grew up with an overbearing mother that lived vicariously through them. I watched and saw how much pressure and pain this person went through when trying to live a life for two people instead of one. It’s hard enough to try and fail on your own, but when someone’s hopes and dreams are bundled up into your every move, failure is devastating.

I watched as this person became the shell of who they once were and completely fall apart, just out of fear of failure. A bad stage mother has the ability of taking something a child is naturally good at and loves and turning it into something they fear. I watched a natural talent fade away, and give way to fear and an eventual mental breakdown. I say witnessing that really influenced my need to make this movie.

Bethany is very on the money with some of the depictions of mental illness, was there a conscious effort to keep the more supernatural/haunted house elements reigned in at any point?

Claire is such a tortured and tragic character. The horrors she endures are palpable, both set in the real world and the supernatural. I remember continuously saying I wanted the film to feel like a quilt, where you don’t know where one scene ends and the other begins but we travel in and out of our lead’s subconscious. I feel that one element is not mutually exclusive. The film always toes the line of ‘is she crazy, is she not crazy’ and I want every single moment to make you change your mind about if she is sane or not. Is she creating this in her mind, or is it really happening? Is the ghost playing tricks on her, or is her past catching up on her? So many questions.

I did a lot of research on mental illness before making this film, and how people with PTSD (non-war related) behave. There is a lot of manic behaviour on display here, which makes the film more terrifying because if what is going on with her is real, no one believes her because they think she's crazy.

It’s arguably your strongest film to date, was there a particular reason you didn’t put the film into festivals before release?

I truly feel it is my strongest film. My grandmother was a huge supporter of me as a filmmaker. When I was 18 years old and I wanted to go and make movies, she always told me I would build skyscrapers from the top down. She believed in me and my abilities, though she never got the chance to see me grow as a filmmaker. She passed away on the first day of me filming Hate Crime. It’s taken 12 movies since then for me to make something I thought was good enough to dedicate to her memory. Bethany was that film. It has so much of me in it, it just felt right.

I didn't go the festival route on the film, because I had already partnered with Uncork’d Entertainment for a theatrical release, they had seen an early cut of the film. I do wish that it had played some festivals, though. I would have been really interested to see how it did on that circuit.

You have formed a production company - Grit Film Works - with Zack Ward, how does that relationship work in regards to writing, etc.?

Zack and I are writing partners. We have a natural flow and are able to work together so effortlessly on the story that it just makes sense. The guy is super talented and pushes me to write.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on an animated kid’s movie that I co-wrote with my dad and directed. It’s something really special I hope everyone checks out.

Bethany is released in the US on April 7th and reviewed here.


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