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Throwing in a number of sinks from the kitchen, Bethany is a tale of madness and menace that combines a few familiar tropes of the genre from abusive whacked-out mothers to childhood secrets and more as it doles out its gruesome horror, offering plenty of dependable B-movie thrills for fans of low budget chills.
For most of Bethany’s fast-paced 90 minutes, there is a lot we’ve seen before, though limited by the film’s micro budget, is decidedly less effective than those backed by larger studios. Nonetheless, where Bethany pulls ahead in many respects is its story, which has some genuine good moments in the third act, veering from the horror it fervently establishes to something, dare I say, emotional. Not impactful, but, given the material, surprising.
Claire (Stefanie Estes), already a slightly unstable woman, inherits her family home after her even more disturbed mother Susan (Shannen Doherty) dies. Claire and her husband Aaron (Zack Ward) move in, though she is clearly uneasy, and we learn why relatively fast. Claire recently experienced a stillborn pregnancy and is suffering from depression, now under the care of Dr. Brown (Tom Green). Back in the home of her childhood, she experiences flashbacks of her abusive mother, who obsessed over beauty. To escape the torments, Claire had an imaginary friend named Bethany, who lived in the walls, but now as as adult, it appears she wants out and Claire is soon struck by ghastly horrors that have her seeing tortures upon her flesh. As she seems to dives further into insanity, Aaron must face the demons himself and try to save his wife.
Written and directed by James Cullen Bressack, who has worked with Estes before in the recently released If Looks Could Kill, Bethany puts a lot of its budget toward its practical effects, which given that budget, are pretty good with Claire envisioning some fairly horrific mutations, but what is actually better than the visuals is the payoff as what appears to be random moments of gore are effectively spun into narrative threads that make sense, giving the ending a bit more weight than expected. And here’s where good independent filmmakers in this genre become most creative, their lack of funds forcing them to find more creative ways to tell their stories. Bressack and his actors do some good work, despite the monetary constraints, and put together a decent story with some eerie, nightmare-ish visuals.
You might have noticed a few familiar names in the cast, and while Doherty is mostly a cameo in flashbacks, she finds the right pitch, a woman off her rocker with some some hideous secrets pressing on her shoulders. She’s good, but more surprising is Green, who’ll you remember was a flash-in-the-pan prank and gross out comedian of the 90s who here plays it deadly straight and very convincing. Ward, who co-wrote the script, is solid as well, however it’s Estes, who continues to show her rising dominance in the indie scene, that is the most fun. She takes to the horror and the depression with manic commitment and gives the film its center.
Bethany is most assuredly not going to earn a large audience, now weened on big-money studio horror productions, but for fans of the indie horror genre, it’ll offer some rewards. Certainly, budgets play a major role in the success of movies like this, but if there is any takeaway, it’s that Bressack and Estes are ready for something bigger.
Movie description: Bethany is a 2017 horror film about a woman who returns to her childhood home, only to be haunted by the memories of her mother.
Director(s): James Cullen Bressack
Actor(s): Stefanie Estes, Zack Ward, Tom Green, Shannen Doherty