Bethany

*1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Bethany
"So much plot is spoken within the first 15 minutes that it's a wonder the characters find time for anything else."

Whatever else he may be, writer, director, producer and sometime actor James Cullen Bressack is certainly prolific. He works on on half a dozen films and TV programmes per year, shooting on a schedule which would exhaust most filmmakers even at his tender age. It's the kind of efficiency studios love: it means the films keep rolling in on schedule, often under budget, and when that's the case, it doesn't matter if some of them flop. Yet whilst there is a fine tradition of pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap movies making room for fresh talent and radical ideas, Bressack is a filmmaker with little to say. If he cares about his art at all, he really needs to slow down and take a look at where it's going wrong.

Bethany of not a film that smacks of being made by somebody who cares. It's very much horror by numbers. Large, run-down, recently inherited house, check. Long shadows and whispering voices and things that go bump in the night, check. Woman not believed by her husband, check. Scary little girl, check. There's also a cruel mother; co-writer and star Zack Ward apparently blames his for trying to stop him becoming an actor, so perhaps there's an element of revenge here. This mother figure owes much to Snow White's wicked queen, obsessing over beauty, but the smarter tellers of such tales understand that it's understandable women would worry about such things in a world where their looks are sometimes their only source of power, and that the real horror lies therein. Bressack, instead, tries to explain it, as he tries to explain everything, creating a film that sags under the weight of exposition. So much plot is spoken within the first 15 minutes that it's a wonder the characters find time for anything else.

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Ward's character is Aaron, a businessman recently moved into the default haunted house with his wife Claire (Stefanie Estes); he's the sort of guy who seems endlessly loving and patient until one steps back a pace and notices the depth of his passive aggression. This gives him interesting potential and Ward acquits himself fairly well onscreen, but the script is all over the place and really doesn't help. Estes fares less well. As a woman who may tormented by a ghost or may be losing her mind (perhaps both), she's required to be histrionic in practically every scene, and neither she nor Bressack have the skill to carry this off. With recent horror melodramas such as Darling and The Eyes Of My Mother still fresh in the mind for many viewers, this is all the more dismaying.

It's also wearing; Claire is not an easy character to be around and there's nothing to reward the viewer for staying. Add to this the one horror element Bressack does well - visceral gore in ordinary household settings - and much of the film is simply unpleasant. Those who enjoy gore for its own sake or sufficiently admire his expert use of sound in this content may get something out of it; others, waiting for some real story to develop, will be less patient.

What story there is here is nothing we haven't seen before. It's back-of-an-envelope stuff, with just a couple of decent visual ideas (nicely composed - lack of talent is not the core of the problem here) to try and help people remember what it was called when skimming through VoD titles and warning a friend not to bother. All in all the most remarkable thing about the film is how many holes it's possible to fit into such a slender plot. The moral seems to be that old adage that beauty is only skin deep, but Bethany wants to have its cake and eat it, as it still invites us to be disgusted by deformity. Furthermore, as all it really has going for it is superficial gloss, looking beneath the surface is that last thing it should be inviting viewers to do.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2017
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Bethany packshot
Moving into the home of her dead mother, a woman starts seeing things. Is she remembering the past, losing her mind or being haunted?

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