Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Much of the film is concerned with loneliness."

Elena (Callie Hernandez) is posed like a documentary interview subject as she smokes a cigarette in the back of the car, whilst the guy she just fucked asks questions in an effort to get to know her. He hopes that it will be the start of a relationship. She seems to be trying to put him off, or perhaps just to test him, as she tells him a story about an encounter she had with former high school classmate Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson). At the end of the film we will get a glimpse of Jessica, too, and the contrast between them in the wake of their shared experience is telling.

They meet – in Elena’s recollection, which forms the bulk of the film – at a petrol station in New Mexico, far from their shared point of origin in California. Elena is staying in her grandmother’s old trailer in the desert. Jessica is apparently on the road, fleeing a persistent stalker named Kevin. Her nervous behaviour reveals that habitual distrust which often develops in people who have felt threatened over a long period of time, but on impulse she decides to accept Elena’s offer to go and stay in the trailer for a few days. It would be difficult for even the most paranoid person to anticipate the complication which doing so will create.

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It’s winter in New Mexico and a pale blue sky arches above the red dust; the roads are wide an empty. Elena gives a lift to a local hitchhiker. She takes Jessica out to see what there is to be seen in the area, but Jessica becomes uncomfortable when she sees a bald white man nearby. Anybody like that reminds her of Kevin, she says. She shows Elena some of his messages and letters, and Elena is sympathetic. Whilst he doesn’t seem dangerous – though one never knows with these things – the scale and intensity of his obsession is exhausting. Yet despite all this, the last thing Jessica expects is to see Kevin wandering around outside the trailer.

To say more about the plot would be to give too much away. The film’s marketing and festival positioning have clearly labelled it as horror, but it’s on the gentler, stranger side of the genre, and some unusual decisions are taken with both the narrative and the camerawork. In view of the fact that the story is rather slight, and not really sufficient for the 72 minute running time, this becomes more important, as the success of the film really depends on how viewers respond to its tone.

The big challenge here is the representation of Kevin, as the film attempts to strike a careful balance between conveying the misery and fear involved in being stalked and offering a little sympathy for the stalker himself. As portrayed by Will Madden, Kevin is clearly mentally ill, and in need of help. His situation is also an unhappy one. Madden goes above and beyond what is required of most actors in terms of learning lines or improvising when he talks about Jessica, at great speed, for an uninterrupted four minutes. Anybody who has suffered from intrusive thoughts as a result of anxiety, depression or OCD will relate to that way of thinking, even whilst recognising how horrible it is for Jessica herself. The cure suggested here may be a little simplistic, but it’s not without value.

Much of the film is concerned with loneliness. Its characters easily drift away from one another. Kevin has inadvertently isolated himself. Jessica, wary, puts up barriers. Elena has chosen to spend her time in the middle of nowhere, connecting with a family legacy which makes her a social outsider. Over the course of the story we meet lonely ghosts (very simply differentiated from the living), who wander with no real sense of purpose. In the desert, we feel as far from the interconnected electronic world as we are from a city. There is a suggestion that we can only find a purpose when we take a chance on building real connections with others – which complicates Elena’s reaction to the guy in the car still further.

Though not entirely successful, Jethica is a bold attempt to do something different. it’s a film with a distinct personality which some viewers will fall in love with and which no-one will quickly forget. Full of dysfunctional characters and moral ambiguity, it nevertheless has a sweetness about it which is rare in this context, and full of potential.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2023
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When Jessica's stalker surprises her in New Mexico, she must seek help from beyond the grave to get rid of him for good.
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Director: Pete Ohs

Writer: Andy Faulkner, Callie Hernandez, Will Madden

Starring: Callie Hernandez, Ashley Denise Robinson, Andy Faulkner, Will Madden, Stephanie Hunt

Year: 2022

Runtime: 72 minutes

Country: US


Abertoir 2022

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