The horror genre was practically built on the backs of ghost stories. While most haunted tales are terrifying, every once in a while stories about spirits returning from beyond the grave prove to be more aligned with the banal humor of everyday life than the monsters who stalk our worst nightmares. This is the case with Pete Ohs’s Jethica, a film that follows bumbling and inept ghosts trying to find connection in the liminal space between life and death. The quirky story deftly blends dry humor and unsettling ideas that play out like a millennial cross between Fatal Attraction and Weekend at Bernie’s. Ohs dresses up a haunting parable about stalking and harassment in the comforts of a wry supernatural thriller that makes a subtle statement about the real life horrors women live with every day.
The story begins with our hero Elena (Callie Hernandez) having sex in a car. While chatting afterwards with her unidentified paramore, we learn that she recently spent a year in hiding after committing a murder. We then flash back to the moment of impact and watch as she accidentally strikes a pedestrian on a lonely road in New Mexico. The heart of the story, however, is her relationship with Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), a friend from high school who’s also on the run. A chance meeting between the two women at a gas station leads to a sweetly deadpan story of strength and support in the face of dark attachment. It seems Jessica is fleeing a stalker, aptly named Kevin (Will Madden), whose unwavering attention has driven her from her home. When Kevin follows Jessica to Elena’s isolated trailer, she begins to wonder if there may be more malevolent forces at play.
At just over 70 minutes, Jethica packs a mean punch with a tight script that refuses to deviate from its mission. We never meet the audience for Elena’s story nor do we care. Ohs gives us just enough information to identify with the two women under siege and allows us to fill in any details about their larger lives by ourselves. The isolation of the New Mexico plains mirrors this sparseness and we watch as ghosts track the girls across the vast open lands providing no place to hide. This lack of complication feels glacial at times, but Ohs’s intentional pacing allows us to fully sink into a story where everyone involved has all the time in the world.
Though Jethica’s action revolves around ghosts, its terror comes from the world of the living. An early scene in which Keven calls to Jessica from the darkened fields casts a chilling spell, but the spirits themselves are not particularly scary. The true horror comes from Jessica’s descriptions of Kevin’s obsessive behavior and in digging through his large trove of increasingly unnerving messages. The juxtaposition between this unhinged predator and his awkward ghost maintains a light tone in what could easily drift into devastating territory.
Once we no longer fear Kevin, we begin to fear for him as the reality of his new solitary existence comes into focus. The story then morphs into an examination of loneliness and isolation accompanied by more information about the meandering hitchhiker Elena keeps picking up along the side of the road. Despite a dry and playful tone, several narrative beats hit like a gut punch and cause us to consider the harrowing concept of a desolate eternity.
Jethica is a dry horror-satire that plays with traditional ghost story tropes to explore real world horrors. This quirky balance is sold through stoic yet endearing performances from the two leads. Though Elena clearly cares for Jessica, she navigates the story with an eerie calm that makes us wonder what else she’s been through. Jessica’s own mellow demeanor also perplexes and we wonder how she can face Kevin’s reappearance with such a level head. Both performances subtly foreshadow important plot twists and lay the groundwork for a placidly unfolding story that keeps us from sinking too far into despair. The one strange note is Andy Faulkner’s portrayal of Benny who plays the roaming pedestrian with a slow demeanor that uncomfortably reads as the results of addiction or disability. The star of the show is Kevin, whose neurotic and obsessive rants outside the cabin are only funny because we know he can no longer hurt us. It’s a hilarious performance that skates just up to a disturbing line without ever crossing it.
At first glance, Jethica is a sparse little thriller with a clear and concise concept. However the witty plot hides interesting messages about adult friendships and the value of human connection. Each character, whether living or dead, struggles while alone. They are only able to find a way out of haunting isolation by forging relationships with each other. Ohs uses this simple story to explore heavy themes of guilt and loneliness, delivered with a skillful punch that will likely leave viewers contemplating this unconventional ghost story long after leaving the theater.
Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.