Sunday, February 05, 2023


Only one more day and showtime for Jethica at the Brattle (Monday 6 February at 9pm), and maybe don't sleep on it if you can make it. It will be available for rental pretty quick - 14 February on Amazon, and it may already be available in some countries, but I feel like it's one of those films that benefits from not being safely contained in a box. All films are like that, of course, but there's something especially lovely about something this independent and tight getting to be the whole world.

Anyway, this one hit me just right.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 February 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

The writing credits suggest that if Jethica was not actually improvised, then it's the sort of collaboration that has everybody pitching in with what this character or that character is like, with director Pete Ohs knitting it together so that, in the end, the film satisfies in large part by doing a lot of little things better than usual. At least for a bit, as one realizes that those little things are actually big things.

Ohs frames it as a story that Elena (Callie Hernandez) is telling a guy in the backseat of a car, explaining why they couldn't do this in her apartment. In it, she'd been staying at her late grandmother's mobile home in a very sparsely populated part of New Mexico, occasionally giving hitchhiker Benny (Andy Faulkner) a ride, when by happenstance she bumps into Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), a friend from their high school years, who has left California and then her family home in Santa Fe because of Kevin (Will Madden), a persistent stalker. When Kevin shows up in Elena's front yard, it's a big shock: First, because there's no way Kevin could know about the place from Jessica; second, because Kevin is dead.

He's a ghost, of course, and once Elena knows that, she's got a fairly matter-of-fact explanation and some idea of what to do next, and there's something impressive about how the filmmakers handle it, just sort of locking in to how everybody knows ghosts even if they don't believe in them, and moving along when ghosts are the explanation that fits the situation best. Rules are set up, but not as things to defy, but as scenarios to work through, a negotiation that fits the stalker narrative without feeling twisted to do so. How can Elena and Jessica work "tell Kevin to go away, fight back, give in" to their advantage.

It's deft, and there's a lot of nifty work like that. Ohs (credited as director, co-writer, producer, cinematographer, and editor) does neat things with the camera - consider the way the scene where Elena and Jessica first sees each other starts out focused on Elena, deftly moves the shot to Jessica's car and builds it so that the audience feels her considering Elena's invitation and literally turning around, and then finishes with them together, just good craft combined with ordinary things that will resonate with people. Or another shot with Kevin weaving in and out of a piece of farm equipment, flattened to mess with the viewer's depth perception, almost daring the audience to catch him touching something, unnerving the audience enough as they try to get into the weird stalker/ghost logic Kevin is working with.

The four main cast members are also credited as writers alongside Ohs, and if they're writing their own dialogue, it turns out especially helpful with Elena and Jessica, who could easily sound alike as both are headstrong but kind of in retreat. Calley Hernandez and Ashley Denise Robinson both capture the feeling of friends who aren't quite sure what they have to talk about with each other at the moment, capturing how Elena is more of a problem-solver and Jessica is more empathetic without having to really sharpen that contrast. Hernandez's scenes with Andy Faulkner are especially nifty to watch; particularly the last; she emotes on a lower key than most but it makes the little differences pop.

The guys are good, too, although it's a different kind of performance. We're never particularly told that ghosts are a simplified version of the people they were, but it plays out that way, with Will Madden giving Kevin different manic vibes in the present, where his ghost is confused and instinct-driven, than in flashbacks and recordings, where there's a different, self-centered edge. The way that Ohs and company treat Kevin and Benny is inspired, in a way, and also well-calibrated: Though the bulk of this movie is about a woman's natural fears and the ways that they support each other through it, the filmmakers also have a keen eye for how much suffering has its roots in male loneliness. It's not exculpatory, and it's certainly not something that should fall to women to fix, but it's central to just how Kevin and Benny wound up where they were.

<SPOILERS!>(There's an extra scene with the two just before the end credits that walks the line between padding and intriguing, getting into the afterlife in a way that seemingly underlines how important it is for guys to have friends but maybe undercutting how Elena doesn't really know or care what happens to the guys after they fade away, maybe pushing Kevin a little too close to the protagonist zone. I do like the bit that comes after the credits, showing Jessica recovered enough to help someone else who feels lost the way Elena helped her, albeit in a different way with a different attitude. It's long for a post-credit scene, but it belongs a bit outside the main narrative there, a perfect reassuring moment that things can get better. Interestingly, we never learn who Elena's roommate is. It doesn't seem to be Jessica, or a ghost, and it may just be no-one because she's not as big on opening up as Jessica, and it doesn't necessarily really matter, but the movie is awful close to it being something we'd be disappointed not knowing, though just avoiding it.)<!SRELIOPS>

Some of these scenes may be there to stretch it out to 70 minutes, which is likely a lot of festivals' feature cut-off point and likely makes it look slight. It's tight, though, with even those possibly-extra bits interesting, and a solid, well-made presentation at the core.

No comments: