For some frightfest filmmakers the challenge of molding and shaping the horror genre in their own imaginative vision is a definite given. The horror genre is a broad scope of a creepy canvas in which moviemakers can manipulate the kinds of colourful fear and tension that they want to convey artistically. Writer/director/producer James Cullen Bressack is no different when catering to his brand of glossy horror-themed hedonism in certain substance and style. Bressack’s ‘Bethany’ is the nightmarish narrative rooted in conventional creepiness that is surreal enough to be considered somewhat intriguing yet routinely atmospheric in its traumatic presentation. Nevertheless, the twenty-something Bressack is loaded with the potential behind the camera and one can measure the enthusiasm of his supernatural endeavors embedded in the somber-induced ‘Bethany’. Still, Bressack’s 90 minute stretched-out cinematic shock-to-the-system is recycled, saggy and manufactured.
‘Bethany’ pretty much sticks to the familiar formula of the hellish horror playbook and one wishes that if Bressack had the gumption to deviate from such a known pedestrian format than perhaps his goosebump spectacle could have benefited from a welcomed twist of an unpredictable edginess. Essentially, ‘Bethany’ is a laundry list of follow-the-dots caustic cliches that include the obligatory unknown factors of a haunted house, a beleaguered and possessed little girl, strange happenings that transpire in the darkness, spousal indifference and uncertainty and a miserable maternal presence lurking in the shadows. Unfortunately, Bressack presents a disjointed juggling act as all the sketchy and bizarre elements in ‘Bethany’ feel cobbled together to tell a rather drowsy, nail-biting tale.
The scary story is jointly anchored by Aaron (played by the film’s co-screenwriter Zack Ward) as a businessman whose decision to relocate to a large dilapidated house that he has inherited with his wife Claire (Stephanie Estes) will prove costly as time marches on within this haphazard homestead. In fact, the inherited house in question happens to be Claire’s abode from a youthful yesteryear. Both Aaron and Claire are conflicted although the spotty script gives the main source of meaty mayhem to Estes’s Claire as she is bombarded by inescapable childhood memories that rack her tainted soul to no end. Naturally, the horrifying house triggers all the kiddie-minded chaos and corruption that the minor Claire (played by Anna Harr) endured while constantly bombarding her in flashback scenes that feature her problematic mother Susan (Shannon Doherty). Of course, the legitimate antagonist that haunts Claire more than ever is an imaginary friend Bethany, an intrusive spirit that yearns for her undivided attention something fierce. However, Bethany is not to be ignored and things start to get really vitriolic under her spooky roof. After all, a nasty bowl full of cockroaches flowing out of Claire’s food seems tame to the other kinds of freakish occurrences taking place.
So what is Claire to do concerning her recurring household hallucinations? Better yet, how can Claire conquer her personalised demons in the form of a developing breakdown highlighted by a double dose of insanity and mishandling of reality? Well, for starters Claire and Aaron’s psychologist Dr. Brown (played in refreshing fashion by off-kilter comedian Tom Green) tries to get to the bottom of his disillusioned patient’s piercing plight.
‘Bethany’ wants to forcefully tackle the questionable mental state of its harried heroine and this is an interesting notion on paper. However, co-scripters Bressack and Ward (outside of their directorial and acting duties) fall short because the film does not have the sturdy depth, construction or creative confines to pull off such a revelation involving a vulnerable woman’s psychological capacity or incapacity in this particular case. It feels more as a tepid tease than a tactical strategy to delve into the dysfunctional dynamics of a broken woman hindered by a checkered past. One becomes indifferent as to whether they want to venture a guess as to whether or not Estes’s Claire’s ghostly torment is genuine or perhaps an exaggerated figment of her twisted imagination.
Sadly, the awkward techniques that Bressack and Estes’s bewildered performance incorporates through aforementioned cryptic flashbacks and recollections seem quite artificial. There have been previous recent horror showcases that explore the topical fodder of a lost woman losing her mental marbles in a horrible house of reminiscing that were received slightly better with fresher eyes from the moviegoers that originally viewed these similar themed scare flicks. Films such as Nicolas Pesce’s ‘The Eyes Of My Mother’ and Mickey Keating’s ‘Darling’ from 2016 easily eclipses the same premise currently being ushered in the seemingly retread ‘Bethany’.
Surprisingly, ‘Bethany’ boasts some decently measured performances particularly from the better known supporting players in one-time spastic ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ irksome personality Tom Green as the cerebral head shrink out to examine Claire’s nerve-racking noggin and former explosive TV tart Shannon Doherty as the misguided Mommy Dearest from yesterday. Clearly, audiences have seen the sordid antics as displayed in ‘Bethany’ countless times before so there is nothing really distinctive or daring that would suggest this gory vehicle to be nothing more than a visceral run-of-the-mill roller-coaster sitting on some complimentary chills and thrills. It is too bad that there was not more macabre meat on the blistering bone surrounding the household hysterics of a wounded woman on the edge of dismissive delusional destruction.
cast: Stefanie Estes, Zack Ward, Tom Green, Shannon Doherty, Anna Harr and Keith Jardine
Uncork’ d Entertainment/Brilliant Screen Studios
1 hr. 30 mins.
DIRECTOR/WRITER: James Cullen Bressack
MPAA Rating: NR
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2017