Stalking intersects with the supernatural in indie drama Jethica.
The creative process behind Jethica is nearly as interesting as the final product. Conceived during the pandemic, the film didn’t have a script when director Pete Ohs and his lead actors moved to New Mexico. From there they all contributed to the script, shaping the narrative and the characters in an organic, collaborative way.
The result is an intriguing, low budget indie film that combines aspects of a stalker drama with the whimsical melancholia of a ghost film. Elena (Callie Hernandez) and Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson) haven’t seen each other since high school when they randomly happen upon each other at a gas station in New Mexico. Both women are dealing with demons – there’s an abrupt moment of violence in Elena’s story that pays off at the end of the film, while Jessica is on the run from her obsessive stalker, Kevin (Will Madden, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow).
Elena ultimately invites Jessica to stay with her at her grandmother’s trailer in the middle of the desert, and the vague supernatural properties of the space (Elena mentions her grandmother was a mystic) draw Kevin in. The main body of the film concerns the women’s efforts to deal with Kevin once and for all, using means both conventional and otherworldly (the film’s micro-budget means the paranormal aspects are handled primarily through make-up).
One of Jethica’s charms is its low-fi aesthetic. This is a small production that uses a handful of actors to tell a small story in a relatively grounded way, albeit with a slight supernatural boost. At 68 minutes, the film thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome (although there are innumerable shots of the New Mexico environment that border on both runtime padding and landscape porn).
The focus is firmly on the characters and Ohs (acting as director, cinematographer and editor) favours long takes and slow pans to let the performances breathe. The visual aesthetic also reinforces and emphasizes their isolation, as characters are routinely framed in long or extreme long shots against the desolate, chilly environment.
One of the more discomforting decisions Jethica makes is to give a substantial amount of screen time to the inner thoughts of a stalker. Not only is Jessica’s battered exhaustion firmly on display in Denise Robinson’s performance, but Kevin’s obsessive letters and videos are regularly displayed. At one point, after Elena confronts him, the camera follows Kevin for several minutes as he wanders the New Mexico terrain, mumbling to himself about his role in Jessica’s life. It’s a deeply uncomfortable re-framing of a stalker narrative and, as the film goes on to connect Elena and Jessica’s trauma, Jethica seemingly aims to generate a strange empathy for its antagonists that doesn’t entirely satisfy. Similarly, the decision to frame the bulk of the narrative as a flashback that Elena is telling a random, unseen hook-up never truly pays off.
Still, between the strong performances (Hernandez and Madden in particular) and the film’s evocative use of environment, Jethica is compelling and well worth a watch. 3.5/5
The Bottom Line: Jethica is an intriguing examination of stalking that mixes genres in a satisfyingly low-fi way. While not all of the creative decisions work, the film uses smart narrative and visual strategies to build character and mood and, at 68 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Jethica premiered at SXSW