James Cullen Bressack is a writer/director/producer/editor and almost anything else you can think of, with a huge list of credits, some of it well-regarded, some of it not. Bethany is the second film from the production company he established with actor Zack Ward, who also co-writes here with Bressack.
Claire is a woman haunted by tragedy and an attempt on her own life, and she’s incredibly fragile as a result. When her mother dies and Claire is given her childhood home in her mother’s will, out of necessity she moves back with her husband Aaron in tow. It brings up memories of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and as Aaron’s work increasingly keeps him busy, Claire is home alone. Those memories of her childhood start to become something even more sinister as Claire’s paranoia deepens and a figure from those past reflections starts to appear in her present. Is the house or Claire herself haunted?
Claire seems pretty unbalanced from the start. The question throughout is more about whether it’s as a result of lingering damage from her loss or a malevolent presence in the house. The way we find out is via one cliché bumping into another, before the whole troop of them tumble down a hill together towards this movie’s end. It folds a lot into the mix, from the ‘is-she-mad?’ influences through body horror to J-horror.
Due to its themes of child abuse, abandonment and grief it’s inevitably a sad, dour film with little in the way of relief. Despite this there is enough to recommend. Shannen Doherty appears effectively in flashbacks as Claire’s emotionally and physically abusive mother. Ward is a long established actor and gives his everyman Aaron a realistic concern regarding the wife he loves and worries about losing. Stefanie Estes brings a delicateness and brittleness to her portrayal of Claire that works.
Even though it’s really little more than a collection of off-the-peg influences, there’s a few effective moments scattered within despite them smacking of things you’ll no doubt have seen before. The writing might not be original but it is solid. The real problem comes from struggling to figure out who would actually enjoy this. It’s grim stuff, and works hard to bum you out. This is not a film you’re going to be using the word ‘enjoyed’ about any time soon. If it works on any level it is one of catharsis, though not in the same way as say something like The Exorcist. But really, we’re probably being unnecessarily harsh. It’s a fine enough film that does the job it sets out to do.
BETHANY / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: JAMES CULLEN BRESSACK / SCREENPLAY: JAMES CULLEN BRESSACK, ZACK WARD / STARRING: STEFANIE ESTES, ZACK WARD, SHANNON DOHERTY / RELEASE DATE: 7TH APRIL (US); UK RELEASE DATE TBA