BETHANY is writer-director James Cullen Bressack’s eighth feature horror movie (not including the many horror shorts and anthology segments he’s directed), and I watched this film with heavy heart. Bressack announced that Bethany would be his last horror film for a very long time. Why is my heart heavy? Because Bressack, as a filmmaker, has gotten better and more mature with every film he’s directed. His debut horror feature was My Pure Joy (2011). I enjoyed this film and saw a lot of promise in Bressack as a filmmaker, but the film was far from perfect. Then in 2012 he gave the world Hate Crime, and in a matter of a year, Bressack showed one helluva lead in his chops. This film was intense and very difficult to watch. Bressack walked the very thin line between preachy and exploitation, and showed the indie horror scene that he was a force to be reckoned with.
After Hate Crime, Bressack followed this with the extremely fun apocalyptic 13/13/13, the creepy To Jennifer, the surprisingly bloody TV movie Blood Lake, and the amazing ghost story with a twist, Pernicious. Pernicious effortlessly blended different sub-genres, and Bressack really showed he has what it takes to make a badass, gory, and enthralling horror film. But if Bressack is going to retire from the horror genre, then he chose to go out on top with Bethany. This is an extraordinaryily mature film that deals with some heavy material and some complex plot points that could have easily become muddled up, thereby rendering the entire film silly. Bressack, though, expertly handles the story and all the fine nuances of it and delivers a true gut-punch of an ending.
The film stars Stefanie Estes as Claire, a woman who returns to her childhood home after the sudden death of her mother. We soon discover that Claire’s mom, Susan (Shannen Doherty), was far from being Mother of the Year. Her abuse of Claire was more psychological than physical, and writers Bressack and Zack Ward, who also plays Claire’s husband Aaron, give us a complex kind of abuse. Doherty’s Susan is a monster, have no doubt, but from the outside, others may just see her as a little overbearing and pushy. But her abuse of her daughter has left a large mark on Claire’s self-esteem. Soon after she and her husband move back into her childhood home, Claire begins to hear and see things that could only be described as “disturbing.”
There aren’t too many more plot points I can discuss without giving away what is going in here, but Bethany will creep you out and stay with you days after watching it. The acting in spot on by the entire cast, but it is really Bressack who pulls it all together and makes this film such a huge success. Throughout the film, you will wonder if all these weird things are actually happening, or if they are all in Claire’s fractured mind. In the hands of a different, less skilled director, Bethany would have been a jumbled mess that would have either left you scratching your head in confusion, or just shaking your head at what a complete mess it is.
Just like his previous film, Pernicious, Bressack again plays around with several horror sub-genres, and effortlessly fuses them together. Is this a ghost story? A psychological thriller? A creature flick? Well, it’s all these things, and Bressack pulls it off beautifully. Along the way, we get some fantastic special f/x done by Jerami Cruise, who worked on all of Fred Vogel’s August Underground films and is a crazy-talented f/x artist. We don’t just get a brilliantly executed story here, but we also get fantastic, very real looking special f/x.
Bethany is the pinnacle of James Cullen Bressack’s horror career. It is a shame the genre is losing him, and I sure hope he comes back after he explores other opportunities. But if you’re looking for a seriously screwed up film with some disturbing material and gooey f/x, then look no further than Bethany!! Don’t miss this one.
Director: James Cullen Bressack (& co-writer with Zach Ward)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer