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SXSW 2022 ‘Jethica’ Review: Dead Guys and Deadpan Humor

SXSW
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Sweet, short, and simple, Jethica, directed by Pete Ohs, is a light and airy horror comedy, following two old high school friends that meet in a barren stretch of New Mexico as they run from tumultuous recent pasts that are determined to (literally) haunt them. 

Jethica is suspended in a sort of strange, endearing detachment. Elena (Callie Hernandez) and Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson) seem incapable of being scared or even particularly moved emotionally. They share their immense traumas — an accidental hit-and-run while texting for Elena, a years-long avoiding of a stalker for Jessica — with a sort of bored ease, and they’re seemingly interested in helping each other simply for the sake of it. When disembodied voices scream in the night from the freaky pitch darkness of the land that Elena lives in a small trailer home on, she goes out to investigate almost casually, mostly just curious. Later, when Jessica’s stalker, Kevin (Will Madden), appears inexplicably and impossibly in front of their home, staggering and groaning Jessica’s name, the two stare at him, confused but not freaking out. 

Jethica is a visually stunning film, capturing a sort of barren, hollow expanse of nothingness that is both beautiful and empty. Elena and Jessica spend their time in a retro trailer home that is planted smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Dusk is both vibrant and terrifying, and bright, clear daytime is just as capable as holding the supernatural and off-putting as the night.  

As the women turn to help from beyond the grave, this film also has a firm grasp on the basic tenets of what makes ghost stories work — mainly, how often what is most scary is what we can’t see. There are chillingly disembodied voices echoing in the nothing expanse of New Mexico. When Elena investigates outside one night, her flashlight beams into a void of darkness, pivoting back and forth back and forth to reveal further cold desolation, more nerve-wracking with each turn of the light. There’s a sort of impossible emptiness to the land at all times, holding a feeling of being both totally alone and simultaneously watched by something. And while the direction and visuals allow for the hairs to briefly stand on the back of your neck as you watch, Elena and Jessica remain charmingly unshakeable. 

Eventually, Elena has to face personal ghosts. Yet when the ghosts are finally revealed, Jethica allows for them to be turned comedic. They are, for the most part, bumbling men that are almost Beetlejuice-esque — pale faced, dark undereyes, and ranging between manic ranting and bumbled distance as they stumble about. 

Where Jethica lacks is in pacing. The beating heart of the story, of Jessica finding resolution from the traumatic experience surrounding her stalker in her newfound friendship and supernatural space of Elena’s home, is bogged down by a need to over explain every portion of the supernatural universe they exist in, as well as a clunky, drawn-out insistence on finding closure for every possible character and story feature, regardless of it feeling relevant or not. 

While it does, unfortunately, drag structurally even in spite of its incredibly short runtime, Jethica is enjoyable in many senses. It’s visually gorgeous, providing some moments of plain and simple creepiness that are also lovely to look at, and keeping a consistent tone of detachment among its protagonists that is fresh and unexpected for a ghost story. 

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