Traumatized Claire (Stefanie Estes) and her supportive husband Aaron (Zack Ward) move back to her childhood home following the untimely death of her mother (Shannen Doherty) in Bethany; a psychological, unnerving offering from James Cullen Bressack (Hate Crime, To Jennifer).
Once at the house, Claire’s mental state unravels as she is forced to confront the anguish of her past at the hands of her abusive mother. But who is the mysterious entity that haunts her memories and what does it want from Claire? The chills and spills soon begin as Claire’s fragile mindset begins to impact on herself and Aaron. Will the couple overcome their problems or is something sinisterly supernatural going on?
James Cullen Bressack has proven himself over the years as a versatile genre filmmaker. I first became familiar with his work when I reviewed Hate Crime, a brutal and unrelenting home invasion film that became a modern-day video nasty here in the UK when it was refused classification by the BBFC. Hate Crime displayed a sense of gritty realism to it, while his next offering To Jennifer was a DIY effort having been completely shot on the iphone 5 to an impressive standard.
Bethany has a more mainstream appeal to it, taking on the style of a typical “haunting” film; however, Bressack utilizes the concept well and has created a movie that is visually creative on a technical level. There is depth to the cinematography aided by deep blue lighting that accompanies the overall gloomy tone of the film, courtesy of John DeFazio. Intense close ups heighten the emotions of the characters particularly in a disturbing flashback sequence that reveals a great deal about Claire’s long suffering past.
Bethany amalgamates the chilling haunted house concept with equal amounts of body horror that is excellently done, achieving a real visceral effect. The gore is crafted to appear realistic. Bethany isn’t overly gory so when those moments do occur they are all the more impactful.
The script co-written by Bressack and Zack Ward who also plays the lead male character is solid. There is very little exposition as it builds on tension and mystery throughout until the well-executed and heartbreaking climax. Nothing feels wasted and loose ends are nicely tied up in favour of it becoming too ambiguous. The characterisations are spot on as Bressack and Ward provide Claire and Aaron with enough layers and backstory that the viewer can understand where their motivations are coming from. Setting the fantastical aspect aside, Claire and Aaron come across as people that exist in the real world with genuine marital problems.
Stefanie Estes does an excellent job playing Claire with a gripping performance. She depicts Claire’s torment as a woman deeply affected by her solitary and confined childhood. Ward and Estes display a believable
chemistry as a struggling married couple. Shannen Doherty stands out as Claire’s troubled mother Susan, fixated on physical beauty and living vicariously through her young daughter. She is vicious, critical and pushy as seen in the flashbacks from Claire’s perspective however as the film unfolds it’s soon revealed that there is more to her than meets the eye.
While there are plenty of familiar tropes in Bethany employed from the “supernatural sub-genre”, this is not your predictable Insidious or Paranormal Activity movie. Bressack refrains from the frequent jump scare angle, making Bethany subtly scary overall. There is a light piano score which builds into an intense orchestral piece throughout the film, composed by Alex Csillag. The music intensifies the notion that there is a presence lurking in the background.
Bethany isn’t an original horror movie by a long shot and seasoned genre fans will have seen this concept time and time again. However, it is well constructed, aesthetically pleasing and incorporates an interesting narrative flow by telling the story between the past and the present. It deals with themes of regret, betrayal, family and mental health. Bethany certainly has mass appeal as a horror film while at the same time offering a more experimental style in terms of how it’s shot. There is also a cool surprise that will come as a treat for fans of Sleepaway Camp!
A standard but well-made, psychological horror, Bethany is worth checking out for some spooktacular scares.
BETHANY opens in theaters and releases on VOD April 7, 2017.