The author Thomas Wolfe was of the mind that you can’t go back home again. He even went as far as to write a book with that exact title. Sometimes circumstances make it necessary to go home, whether we want to or not. Such is the case for Claire, who is returning home because her mother, Susan, has just passed away.
Claire and her husband, Aaron, take possession of and move into her childhood home, finding little has changed over the years. Not long after taking up residence in the house, Claire begins to recall the emotional anguish her mother caused her to endure as a child. Being her mother’s only daughter, her little princess, was a part of Claire’s young life that came with a great deal of emotional turmoil. And as the only child to an overbearing mother, sometimes she needed a friend to turn to. Even if said friend was…imaginary?
This should be a happy time in the couple’s life, with Aaron’s business on a huge upswing and the possibility of starting a family, but they just can’t achieve a sense of harmony. The longer they stay in the house, the more Claire’s psyche frays, until her sanity ultimately seems to completely unravel.
What is to blame for Claire’s deteriorating mental state? Is it the flood of traumatic childhood memories, that are eroding her mental well being? Is she being tormented by an unseen presence residing within the house? Or could it actually be a combination of the two?
Bethany was directed by James Cullen Bressack, who also co-wrote the script with one of the film’s stars, Zack Ward. The two have created a story that incorporates a good mix of paranoia and the paranormal, thus blurring the lines of reality. One of the most terrifying experiences anyone can have, is continually invoked upon Claire, that being the inability to distinguish between whether something has really happened or if it occurred only in one’s mind. It makes for a twisting and turning, well paced psychological horror thriller that has the ability to get – under – your – skin.
The cast delivered very good performances across the board. Stefanie Estes, in the role of Claire, creates a character who is suffering n silence. More for her stillborn child than for the loss of her mother. Estes shifts seemliness between glimmers of hope to despair and then into her eventual downward spiral to (perceived?) madness. The younger Claire, played by Anna Harr, comes across as a pitiable young girl who just wants her mother to show real affection.
As for Zack Ward, he delivers a portrayal of a supportive and nurturing husband, who really wishes to understand what is inflicting torment on his beloved wife. Tom Green actually breaks from his usual irreverent behavior to provide a thoughtful turn as Aaron and Claire’s therapist, Dr. Brown. Nope…sorry, there is no bullying vis-a-vis Scut Farkus or crazy antics by way of strings, sausages and a Casiotone keyboard from Mr. Green. They do have some maniacally exaggerated moments, but only when it’s conducive to whats’ occurring in the story. Shannen Doherty does an excellent job of bringing Clair’s domineering and overbearing mom to life on screen. Javing the personal misfortune of knowing a couple of pageant moms in my lifetime, Doherty absolutely nails their overzealous and less than sincerely affectionate demeanor. Of course I would be remiss in my duties, if I didn’t give a shout out to Felissa Rose in her brief appearance as Janice the realtor.
Many visual aspects also helped to create and maintain feelings of tension and anxiety throughout the film. Specifically the use of extreme closeups and awkward camera angles, bringing the audience uncomfortably close and keeping them off kilter. Also, adding a bluish hue to certain scenes in the film helped to create a cold an ghostly feel at times. And many practical effects employed, especially those on Ms. Estes, were unnerving and impressive.
The setting of Claire’s childhood home also helped to create a sense of claustrophobia and imprisonment. And while shooting within the confines of a closed set, like a house, cinematographer John DeFazio did a very respectable job within such constraints.
At the age of 25, Bressack has a resume more extensive than someone over twice his age. Granted quantity has never been a true indicator of quality. But with this film he has definitely shown great promise, and it’s something that a studio will hopefully take note of. So my little Monsters, if you get the opportunity, give Bethany a watch. YOUr chance to do so will be here soon enough when it releases in theaters as well as on iTunes and VOD April 7th. 7 /10
BUT WAIT, there’s more. Should anybody happen to be in California, and more specifically Beverly Hills , there is a screening AND Q&A with the cast and crew at the Laemmle Music Hall on Wilshire Blvd. For further information about the screening or tickets, visit the theater’s website.