Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: James Cullen Bressack
Writer: James Cullen Bressack, Zack Ward
Producer: James Cullen Bressack, Shannen Doherty, Kenneth Gust, Shahen Jordan, Shant Jordan, Ace Underhill, Zack Ward
Stars: Stefanie Estes, Zack Ward, Anna Harr, Tom Green, Shannen Doherty
A woman moves into her childhood home where she is tormented by visions of her abusive mother and an imaginary twin sister.
A funeral for her mother provides Claire with bittersweet relief that the domineering woman can no longer torment her, even if memories of a traumatic childhood still can. Susan’s death also comes with news that Claire inherited the home where that abuse took place. She is far from anxious to revisit the house, much less move in, but her husband Aaron insists it is the new opportunity they need.
Claire quickly recalls ‘Bethany,’ her imaginary friend who lived within the walls and provided some comfort when mom whipped herself into a whirlwind. After haunting visions have her seeing cockroaches in the Raisin Bran and sewing needles pulling at her face, Claire comes to consider that Bethany might not be make-believe after all. Something supernatural seems to be driving Claire toward madness, and she needs to solve her dead mother’s mystery to prevent going all the way there.
“Bethany” co-writers James Cullen Bressack, who also directs, and Zack Ward, who also co-stars as Claire’s husband, previously collaborated on 2016’s “Restoration” (review here), which is a conceptually identical movie. In it, Ward plays a husband who moves into a haunting home with his wife, who begins suffering from nightmarish hallucinations after uncovering a conspiratorial secret within the walls. Sound familiar?
Not only have Bressack and Ward put this plot onscreen before, they did it better. Practice should make perfect. In the case of “Bethany,” it doesn’t come close.
Bressack has made his name churning out cheap thrillers, with 11 feature directorial credits and counting under his belt between 2013 and 2017 alone. That prolificacy appears impressive, but its end results are not. This agenda of aiming for fast turnarounds on formulaic films takes a tall toll on quality. “Bethany” ends up joining “Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys” (review here) and “13/13/13” (review here) as being among Bressack’s least enjoyable efforts in the lot.
Treading trodden trails like haunted houses, family secrets, and questions of ‘is something sinister afoot or is it all in her head?’ doesn’t immediately impede originality or entertainment. “Bethany” is simply so bland about everything it rehashes that its lethargic lifeline translates into boredom for the viewer.
Stefanie Estes, bearing a physical resemblance to Malin Akerman meets Olivia Wilde, visibly wants to break Claire out of the emotional confinement the screenplay keeps her in. Yet for much of the movie, she isn’t afforded anything to do except moodily mope around the house in step with a snail’s pace momentum.
Zack Ward essentially plays sounding board support as Claire’s husband Aaron. However, Ward’s understated embodiment of a milquetoast man shows subtle hints of personality. Ward’s experience is evident when he puts interesting inflections into uninteresting dialogue. He has a natural way of occupying his screen space to make a role feel real, although it evens out as an immaterial effort in this instance.
Playing against type, Tom Green is surprisingly not out of place as the couple’s psychiatrist. What is out of place is Green wearing the same wardrobe in all of his scenes, despite them taking place at different times. Green was probably shot out in a day, and the production is uninterested in hiding it.
At least Green spends a reasonable amount of time onscreen for his brief role. Receiving top billing for playing Claire’s mother in quick flashbacks, Shannen Doherty isn’t featured nearly enough for her performance to earn much mention.
Adequate acting doesn’t carry the weight to counterbalance thin scripting. Character conversations are entirely functional. When there is some color, such as Green and Ward bantering about Canadian stereotypes over the dinner table, it’s as predictably presented as everything else, and not even amusing.
The film is haphazardly plotted all around. Unnecessary insert shots like a broken dish tossed in a wastebasket or repeated close-ups of Ward’s lips sipping wine come with the question, “why was time spent on such setups when attention was desperately needed elsewhere?” Like inventing a way to escape handcuffs that doesn’t involve lubing a wrist with Jell-O.
“Bethany” picks up a small puff of steam with a climax that might be emotionally moving if it wasn’t so stitched in soap opera silliness. Bressack and Ward go for a telegraphed shock reveal that collapses immediately under disbelief. By then, any hooks the movie had in are long gone anyway. Adding one more disappointment to the list doesn’t alter the outcome of audience disinterest one way or the other.
If one absolutely must have a microbudget mood movie with slight supernatural suspense that is short on production value but longer on earnestness, keep it in the family and consider “Restoration.” Bressack and Ward came closer on the concept the first time around.
Review Score: 35