You can’t outrun your demons in director Pete Ohs’ supernatural tale of revenge and guilt.
Channeling the “always look over your shoulder” paranoia of It Follows, Pete Ohs’ supernatural chiller Jethica is a knotty, unsettling tale of two women who can’t escape past traumas. More than that, the film is also about confronting things it would be easier to suppress and finding a way to move forward, to regain control. Whether it’s possible to achieve control over any aspect of a chaotic world is up for debate, but what Jethica posits is that moving forward is the only real option we have.
The story is framed around Elena (Callie Hernandez)’s retelling. Through long, calm drags on a cigarette, Elena sits in the backseat of a car and tells her story to a man we hear, but never see. She’s on the run, having accidentally killed a man back in her hometown. Before getting out of dodge, she comes across an old acquaintance in Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), who has a stalker she can’t get to leave her alone. Together, the two hit the road to put their problems in the rearview.
Alas, Elena and Jessica learn quickly that their troubles run deeper than a game of tag and running away won’t help. First, they keep crossing paths with Benny (Andy Faulkner), someone Elena knows, who they often spot walking along the roads. Second, there’s Jessica’s stalker Kevin (Will Madden), who has a preternatural ability to find Jessica wherever she goes. Kevin roams around, calling out Jessica’s name as he goes, and his lisp-afflicted pronunciation gives the film its title.
With the bones of a “women-on-the-run” thriller in place, the story shifts, delightfully, into something more thoughtful and thematically darker. This turn in the narrative opens the film up to new interpretations about guilt and victimhood, taking thorny themes and making them even more complex. Once all the cards are on the table, it’s clear that Jethica isn’t entirely about women escaping threatening men. But what exactly the film is trying to get at is something I’m still wrestling with. The mixed messaging could be a result of too many cooks in the kitchen, as Hernandez, Robinson, Madden, Faulkner, and Ohs are all credited on the screenplay and the competing perspectives don’t quite sync up into a unified voice.
Yet, as the movie hurtles toward its conclusion, it finds a way to cohere into something that offers a way forward for Elena, Jessica, Benny, and Kevin. The characters aren’t necessarily in a better place, but they’re at least put on a path toward the better place. Sometimes giving direction to the lost is the only thing that can be done, and all that should be done.
With a runtime approaching 70 minutes, it’s easy to dismiss Jethica as a lark. But it lingers, much like Kevin trailing Jessica. Not all of it works, but when a story is engaging it’s easy to forgive any perceived missteps. At its best, Jethica has the sharp edges of a secret being shared, something that cuts both ways.