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Bethany (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 20, 2020



BETHANY  (2017)

Starring Stefanie Estes, Zack Ward, Shannen Doherty, Tom Green, Anna Harr, Keith Jardine, Leon Russom, Felissa Rose, Kevin Porter, Kirsty Hill, John Murray, Thomas Downey, Tommy Pistol, Tiana Whitley, Hunter Johnson and James Cullen Bressack.

Screenplay by James Cullen Bressack & Zack Ward.

Directed by James Cullen Bressack.

Distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment.  100 minutes.  Not Rated.

Writer/director James Cullen Bressack has been putting together a bit of a name for himself on the seedier side of the Hollywood fright factory.  He has put together a whole slew of indie films (he has directed 31 shorts, episodes of TV series or feature films in a career that has lasted a little over 10 years), most of which were made on true shoestring budgets, but have caught some fan boy love in the world of horror festivals and straight-to-video releasing.

Arguably his first film to really catch on was To Jennifer, a tight and compact chiller about an obsessive girlfriend which stood out because it was made completely on iPhone.  That film gave Bressack genre notoriety.  He even played a comic variation of himself in a cameo in the sequel to that film, 2 Jennifer, which he did not write or direct, but he was one of the producers.

Bethany is his attempt to break into mainstream fright filmmaking, or at least as close to the mainstream as you can get with cheesy stuff that has unhinged supporting performances by 90s celebs Shannen Doherty (Beverly Hills 90210, Heathers, Charmed) and Tom Green (yes, that Tom Green, of MTV and Freddy Got Fingered infamy).

It’s also just one of five film projects that Bressack has set to come out in 2017.  With that kind of heavy workload, it is obvious that Bressack can not spend time obsessing about his projects, and Bethany has a dashed-off feel to it.  It does have some significant scares, but it also has some shockingly inept sections.

Bressack’s skill as a director is improving – there are some truly impactful images and visual shots – but to be quite honest the special effects border on laughably bad, even factoring in the shoestring budget.  He also still has not quite figured out how to coax a good performance out of his actors, most of the roles here are either awkwardly stilted (Zack Ward and Tom Green feel particularly off-stride here) or way over-the-top scenery chewing (Shannen Doherty, we’re talking to you….)

Bethany is an attempt to do an old-fashioned ghost story, though it turns out to be not all that old-fashioned.  It is more like the batshit crazy Japanese haunting films of the 90s (The Grudge, Ringu, Dark Water), but in a kind of good way.  Bressack wrote Bethany with actor Zack Ward (A Christmas Story’s bully Scut Farkus all grown up!).  Ward also plays the male lead in the film, the concerned husband of Claire (Stefanie Estes, who had previously worked with Bressack on last year’s made-for-Lifetime film If Looks Could Kill) who returns to her childhood home to be haunted by her old imaginary friend.

Now, you may ask why Claire would return to the home where she had been terrorized as a child, and you’d be completely justified in wondering that.  However, if she doesn’t then there is no movie.

Still, when her mom Susan (Doherty) dies and leaves the house to her, Claire and hubby Aaron uproot their lives and move back in the old house, hoping to fix it up and flip it.  Once back in her old place, Claire starts flashing back to her mother’s sociopathic stage-mother mood swings.  Claire also starts hallucinating lots of strange things, including the strangely unscary problem of thick black threads poking out of her skin, or one sort of ridiculous scene in which her face appears to slough off as she looks at it in a bathroom mirror.

Is she being haunted by her former imaginary friend, or is she just going crazy?  No one else, particularly husband Aaron, is seeing any of these things, leading people to believe she is losing her mind.  However, Green’s Dr. Brown (yes, Tom Green is playing a psychiatrist, and doing it completely straight-facedly) starts digging into Claire’s medical history and uncovers a family secret which may explain things.

None of it makes sense, but it’s really not supposed to.  And once we finally see what is haunting Claire, it seems more pathetic and ridiculous than horrifying.

Bethany is not likely to be the film which turns Bressack into a household name, but it does show just enough talent and promise to make you think he may still have it in him.  Perhaps he’d be better served to stop spreading himself so thin and truly focus on a single project until he gets it right.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: April 7, 2017.

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