Jethica is a film that wastes no time in laying its narrative out on the table with a refreshing efficiency. No padding, no filler, no three hour runtime, just a film that has a statement to make, makes it, and bows out gracefully. This sort of simplicity isn’t something that necessarily should have to be championed, but in the wake of the “movie that is three hours long that has no business being three hours long” epidemic, there’s an admirable self-awareness in the scale of narrative being presented in Jethica.
Elena (Callie Hernandez) is a young woman living alone in her grandmother’s home in rural New Mexico. She lives a monotonous life, where the most exciting aspects of her day are the frequent rides she gives to drifter Benny (Andy Faulkner), who has become her only real friend. When she runs into a former classmate, Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), at a gas station, she strikes up a conversation and learns Jessica is on the run from her stalker in California. After a touching reunion of old friends, the pair are put to the test when Jessica’s stalker, Kevin (Will Madden), discovers Jessica’s location. The two, confused by how he found her, look to supernatural entities from beyond the grave to rid Jessica of him for good.
For as much as Jethica sounds like a bare-knuckle horror-thriller, it’s quite surprising to find such a tender comedic drama behind the curtain of such a dark premise. This is a clever, lovable film that examines the very scary nature of stalkers while finding the tragic humanity behind both sides in a surprising turn of sympathy for what easily could’ve been an unredeemable character. Not to mention its eventual quirky look at the possibilities of the afterlife and you have a film that, while slight, remains highly memorable in how coherently clever its narrative is as it unfolds.
Hernandez, known for roles in La La Land and Alien: Covenant, gets a wonderful chance to shine in the lead role here. Again, in what easily could’ve been a cop out for a jaded, passive-aggressive girl dissatisfied with how her life has turned out, there’s a warm sweetness to her character’s willingness to help those around her with little-to-no convincing necessary. No matter how dirty, how left field, Elena is there to help. It’s a very different take on this type of protagonist that is so welcome in the age of giving into cynicism so easily.
I believe this is all helped by the fact that, alongside producer/director Pete Ohs, all four cast members of the film share a writing credit on the film’s screenplay. This level of collaboration between the cast and director feels very beneficial in finding the perfect balances in these characters to produce the most organically effective performances from the cast, and crafting characters that feel real to everyone involved in the film, not just one man behind a keyboard.
And Jethica is making gold with pretty much close-to-nothing. This is a true micro-budget film and one that really embraces the limitations it has on itself. Never does the film feel cheap (we have $200 million blockbusters that manage to do that), but there remains a homegrown-ness to the entire affair that gives the experience a genuine authenticity that I find many films looking to make social statements on various topics lacking in the light of the social media age. There is a timelessness to the film that is going to last the test of time when it comes to looking back on the more ingenious indie films of this decade.
Jethica as a concept isn’t much to write home about, but as the collaborative screenplay begins to unfurl the rub of the narrative, I couldn’t help but feel a strange comfort that came with it. For a film about dealing with stalkers and ghosts from a double-wide trailer, there’s a gentleness that comes with this, and it deals out far more sympathy to the “villains” than a film of a more cynical variety would do. That’s an admirable sense of forgiveness that this film holds close to its heart, one that doesn’t excuse or minimize the hurt done by these characters to each other, but rather makes peace with the traumas they are left to deal with as a result. We stand to learn something from Jethica, maybe not in an objective “This is how you should handle this type of situation” manner, but more in how to approach forgiveness and grief in a time where it’s much easier to stay angry forever. I like that, and could stand to listen to its words myself.
Screening during the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
SXSW Screening Information:
*Friday, March 11th, Screening @ 10 pm CT, Alamo Lamar D
*Saturday, March 12th, Online Screening @ 9:00 am CT
*Sunday, March 13th, Screening @ 1145a CT, Alamo Lamar A
*Wednesday, March 16th, Screening @ 4:00 pm CT, Alamo Lamar D
For more information, head to the official SXSW webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.