Review: Beautifully shot horror film 'Bethany' is ferocious and frightening

Reviewed by Jesse Miller,
MoreHorror.com

Synopsis: Claire (Stefanie Estes) and her husband Aaron (Zack Ward) find themselves moving back into Claire's childhood home only to have the abusive and traumatic memories of her mother come back to haunt her. As her husband starts to get more work, Claire finds herself mixed up in a fog of past and present with a mysterious figure haunting her memories. What is this small figure that is trying to reach out to her, and what does it want?

Directed by: James Cullen Bressack
Written by: James Cullen Bressack & Zack Ward
Starring: Stefanie Estes, Zack Ward, with Shannen Doherty and Tom Green.

The first thing that I noticed about Bethany is that it’s beautifully – and I do mean beautifully – shot. Every frame, every bit of lighting is excellent, effectively establishing mood and character and hooking me into the moment of the scene.

We open on an unspecified time, with a young girl playing with her teddy on a stormy evening. Suddenly she hears a voice in the wall – and in a twist of events, happily wanders over to the wall to converse with said voice. Her mother comes in, literally shrouded in darkness, asking her who she is talking to. The teddy, the little girl lies.

From there, we cut to another time. Claire and her husband Aaron mourn the loss of Claire’s mother. We see the cracks in their relationship already. Her husband is talking about business; Claire is distanced from him, looking out the window. They’re disconnected from one another.

The actors, in just one mere minute of on screen time, have sold their performance. Both are realistic, believable. Emotional. This couple feels real. I’m sucked into the moment, as if I am sitting in between them, feeling the awkwardness overwhelm me in the space of the car.

Over the course of the film, these actors portray exceptional range, whether it is the believable chemistry with one another or bringing these characters to life. They are Claire and Aaron, troubled couple. Ward is Aaron, desperately trying to be there for his wife, remaining calm at all times, remaining supportive.

Ward is the wonderful support to Stefanie Estes, who steals the movie. The story is her weight to bear and she does so wonderfully. Claire is a tortured woman, with a past that is seeping into her future. She doesn’t quite understand why, having blocked her past with her emotionally abusive mother (played in brief flashbacks by a Shannen Doherty in top form) and she’s lost for words. Estes nails every complex emotional beat of Claire in a performance where you forget you are watching actors.

An unrecognizable Tom Green, playing the couple’s therapist and friend, turns in a surprising dramatic effort, even in a small supporting role. I didn’t even know it was him! And it’s such a quiet, controlled part for Green and he does it really well.

As for James Cullen Bressack, the man behind the camera, what can I say? He understands the genre. He gets excellent performances, frames a sequence wonderfully, gets to heart of the theme of the piece and he knows when to release tension and when to build it. Under his control, Bethany is a taut psychological horror that is a potboiler before letting loose its ferocious nature.

At its core, Bethany is interested in the dynamic of relationships – husband, wife, mother, and friend. But its also but loss and pain and its all dealt in a way that is effective first and foremost but also satisfying, without hitting you over the head with its metaphor and themes.

As a viewer and horror fan, I was entertained by the intrigue by the story, but I also appreciated that it took its time to establish character so that every moment of distress felt thrilling and frightening.

I think horror fans interested in psychological horror – and, it should be noted, body horror (yes it’s here and yes, the practical effects are fantastic), should keep an eye out for Bethany. Not only for its story but also for the talent behind its story.

 


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