Bethany (2017) Review

Bethany PosterBethany (2017)

Director: James Cullen Bressack

Starring: Stefanie Estes, Zak Ward, Shannon Doherty, Tom Green

“You’re not just some stinky zombie, honey.”

After Claire’s (Estes) mother dies, she and her husband Aaron (Ward) move into her childhood home. The couple is struggling both from financial issues, which makes the free rent attractive, and personal setbacks, their son was stillborn and Claire is recovering from a suicide attempt. As Aaron’s job future brightens, Claire seems to descend into a personal hell as old memories of her abusive mother surface amidst strange visions and supernatural phenomena.

Bethany is a solid thriller and twisty ghost story whose disparate threads come together at the very end, possibly too neatly. As well crafted as the film is, it handles some things much better than others. First, some of the good. The film is nicely shot, and while the budget wasn’t listed on IMDB it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t a lot. The cool twilight blue lighting and camera angles make the most of the limited setting. Most of the film takes place in Claire’s mother’s house. To that end the set/location was very important and Bethany makes the most of its real-estate. Much of the plot questions Claire’s sanity as memories of her abusive past intrude into her daily life and weird visions haunt her waking hours.

Bethany 1Claire’s mother Susan (Doherty), was a shallow, looks obsessed pageant mom, bent on turning Claire into the perfect little princess. To escape, Claire turned to her imaginary friend, Bethany, who may not have been as imaginary as Claire thought. There is a literal ghost, and a lot of misdirection. Which is fine, for awhile, not 90% of the film. It is not until the VERY end of the movie that Claire’s visions, past, and the haunting all come together with a series of deus ex machina coincidences that provide all the answers to the viewer. And while the last ten minutes or so are certainly the most enjoyable, as Aaron at last encounters the supernatural, freaks out, and then Claire solves the mystery of her past, it is very predictable. Except for one spectacular moment of wrap-up that is probably the best scene in the entire film and I cannot spoil for you.

The acting is very good. Though at times Estes falls into over-acting. Still, in a horror movie, better more than less. Zak Ward does a good job as the mostly supportive and loving Aaron. In the few marital fights that appear on screen, he is a real jerk and the attitude seems more a contrivance of the script, and doesn’t feel true to the character as established. Tom Green is surprisingly restrained as the couple’s web therapist who pays an ill fated visit to Claire and Aaron. Shannon Doherty practically has “wicked” stamped on her forehead and even when she phones it in, does a creditable job as Claire’s overbearing mother.

rsz_bethany_3After a bit of poking around on IMDB I found out that director Bressack has been called “horror’s new hope”  (StudioCity Patch – Mike Szymanski), among other accolades. He is young, and prolific, that’s for sure. But to live up to such a lofty critique I would expect far more from his work. Bethany is an okay movie , it’s entertaining but nothing that hasn’t been seen and done before in any number of films. It’s a good B-movie but nothing more.

Kudos for: Having a basement.

Lesson learned: Lime Jell-O will help you out of handcuffs.

6/10

White Crack Bastard (2013) Review

wcb1White Crack Bastard (USA, 2013)

Dir: James Cullen Bressack

Starring: Rhett Benz, Taja V. Simpson, Edmond Chapple

Plot: Luke (Benz) is a photographer whose addiction to crack cocaine has his life spiralling out of control. Ignoring the pleas of those who care about him to go to rehab, and indulging the destructive behaviour of his addict friends, Gina (Simpson) and Chubbo (Chapple), Luke’s life is getting worse and worse.

White Crack Bastard is the kind of drug-centric drama that reminds me of the kind of anti-drug videos we’d be shown at school. A semi-respectable person who falls down the rabbit hole of drug abuse, a victim of peer-pressure and their own pride as they refuse to get help. It’s not quite Reefer Madness but it’s got that “Drugs are bad” message that you hear from Guidance teachers.

After watching White Crack Bastard, I had a look at it’s IMDB page and noticed that it’s synopsis of the film is different from the one that I’ve written above. A synopsis written by someone who read the plot of the film in a completely different way than I did. The IMDB synopsis talks of Luke as being a man who is white and privileged and it’s through his use of crack and his experiences in the ghetto that helps him become a better person by overcoming his problems. I have to wonder if this synopsis was written by Bressack or someone else connected to the film because it feels more like the notes in the art gallery that tell you what you’re supposed to interpret from the art. It’s just not what I got from White Crack Bastard.

wcb2This is definitely a film about race, but it’s not a positive one. Luke is portrayed as a mildly successful white man who is swept away into destructive drug addiction by his two black friends. This leads him to deal with black prostitutes, Latin psychopaths, and various other poor and addicted people of colour. They are constantly shown exploiting Luke, taking his car, and pawning his belongings.

The people in Luke’s life who care for him and tell him to seek help, are white. Luke exploits them as well, borrowing and stealing money from them. That’s not to say that all white people in the film are victims and/or kind-hearted, but the few that aren’t are either sex workers or transgendered and are connected to the destructive side of Luke. By interacting with marginalised groups, Luke is damaging himself and polite white society. That was what I got from watching White Crack Bastard.

wcb3This is the first film by James Cullen Bressack and while I get that he’s trying to make a film with a deep societal message, it doesn’t feel like a message I’m on board with. I had a look through some of his other directorial credits and it looks like his films do focus on a variety of social commentary about topics such as infidelity (To Jennifer, The Condo), and discrimination (Hate Crime). Yet when it comes to social commentary, it has a tendency to split the audience based on personal beliefs and when it comes to White Crack Bastard, I can’t say I agree with it’s observations. On the plus side though, it doesn’t make me want to smoke crack.

5/10

Pernicious (2015) Review

pernicious1Pernicious (2015) Review

Director – James Cullen Bressack

Starring – Ciara Hanna, Emily O’Brien, Jackie Moore

Runtime – 90 Minutes

Three attractive young American women head to Thailand for the summer… Which is either the start of a tasteless joke or the start of a horror movie. Being that this is UK Horror Scene not UK Joke Scene, rest assured it is the latter. Two sisters, Alex (Ciara Hana) and Rachel (Jackie Moore), and their friend Julia (Emily O’Brien) land in their exotic destination with the intention of volunteering at a local school, but with a week before they are due to start a few nights of hard parting are in order.

Unfortunately for them, when they arrived at the remote house they will be staying in, they unwittingly unleashed the spirit of a long dead little girl who was brutally murdered by her own family and turned into a creepy gold statue. Don’t you hate it when that happens?! After a night of heavy drinking with some pervy British tourists, the statue goes missing and believing that the pesky Brits stole the damn thing they set about trying to get it back. As they gradually uncover the truth about the statue and what happened to the little girl, their Thailand adventure descends into an unrelenting nightmare.

pernicious2Director and co-writer James Cullen Bressack (Hate Crime, Blood Lake) is a prolific filmmaker and at only twenty three years of age, already has thirty directing credits to his name (along with credits in pretty much every other department of film making). It was a bold choice to make this movie in Thailand, as most low budget films of this ilk take place on more familiar ground.

The gamble pays off, If only due to the fact that it being set in Thailand is what sets it out from the pack. I don’t know how much of the backstory of the little girl and the statue was based on actual Thai folklore and how much was made up for the film, but it provides an interesting spin on the familiar evil spirit genre.

pernicious3As for the actual execution of the film, the gore effects are mostly practical and very convincing and there is some beautiful cinematography throughout which really takes advantage of the stunning setting.

Unfortunately much of the acting is poor and some of the character make up is laughable (look out for the old ‘witch’ character in an unconvincing grey wig). I don’t want to be too harsh on this film because I feel like if it had been made in the 80s and I had just stumbled across an old VHS and watched it, I would be giving it nothing but praise. It isn’t for everyone but it it certainly has its moments and will definitely appeal to those with a predilection for supernatural horror of the Asian persuasion.

5/10

The BBFC Bans James Cullen Bressack’s HATE CRIME in the UK

HateCrime-PosterTHE BBFC announced today that HATE CRIME has officially been banned in the UK. It is one of only four horror movies officially refused classification by the BBFC since 2009, the others being Grotesque, The Bunny Game and The Human Centipede 2, later released with nearly 3 minutes of cuts.

HATE CRIME tells the story of a Jewish family, having just arrived in a new neighbourhood, who are recording their youngest son’s birthday celebrations on video when their home is suddenly invaded by a bunch of crystal-meth-crazed neo-Nazi lunatics.  The film is the second feature from director James Cullen Bressack (To Jennifer, Blood Lake, 13/13/13), and has already had a successful release in the US.

The full official statement from the BBFC:

“HATE CRIME focuses on the terrorisation, mutilation, physical and sexual abuse and murder of the members of a Jewish family by the Neo Nazi thugs who invade their home. The physical and sexual abuse and violence are accompanied by constant strong verbal racist abuse. Little context is provided for the violence beyond an on screen statement at the end of the film that the two attackers who escaped were subsequently apprehended and that the one surviving family member was released from captivity. We have considered the attempt at the end to position the film as against hate-crime, but find it so unconvincing that it only makes matters worse. 

 

hate-crime-1“The BBFC’s Guidelines on violence state that ‘Any depiction of sadistic or sexual violence which is likely to pose a harm risk will be subject to intervention through classification, cuts or even, as a last resort, refusal to classify. We may refuse to classify content which makes sexual or sadistic violence look appealing or acceptable […] or invites viewer complicity in sexual violence or other harmful violent activities. We are also unlikely to classify content which is so demeaning or degrading to human dignity (for example, it consists of strong abuse, torture or death without any significant mitigating factors) that it may pose a harm risk.’

 

“It is the Board’s carefully considered conclusion that the unremitting manner in which HATE CRIME focuses on physical and sexual abuse, aggravated by racist invective, means that to issue a classification to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board’s Guidelines, would risk potential harm, and would be unacceptable to broad public opinion.”

“Of course, the Board will always seek to deal with such concerns by means of cuts or other modifications when this is a feasible option.  However, under the heading of ‘Refusal to classify’ our Guidelines state that ‘As a last resort, the BBFC may refuse to classify a work, in line with the objective of preventing non-trivial harm risks to potential viewers and, through their behaviour, to society. We may do so, for example, where a central concept of the work is unacceptable, such as a sustained focus on sexual or sadistic violence. Before refusing classification we will consider whether the problems could be adequately addressed through intervention such as cuts.’ The Board considered whether its concerns could be dealt with through cuts. However, given that the fact that unacceptable content runs throughout the work, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.”

hate-crime-2Says director James Cullen Bressack: “I am honoured to know that my mind is officially too twisted for the UK. So it goes . I find it unbelievable that a film that shows little to no on screen violence and no nudity was actually banned. it just shows the power of what is implied and peoples imagination; and is a testament to the fact that the same crimes that happen in the world are truly horrifying.”

 

About James Cullen Bressack

Bursting upon the indie horror scene at the age of eighteen with his first feature My Pure Joy, James Cullen Bressack has been called “horror’s new hope” (StudioCity Patch – Mike Szymanski) and “a talent to watch out for.” (H.S.T.- Ben John Smith) as well as garnering rave reviews on almost every horror web site. Released by Media Blasters on their Fresh Meat Shriek Show label in 2012, the film quickly rose to the top of the best sellers list on Amazon.com in the horror category. His second feature, a real shocker, Hate Crime, was a festival favorite and garnered many awards. Bressack then made history with his next feature, To Jennifer, which was the first feature film shot entirely on an iPhone 5. The prolific filmmaker then made Pernicious, filmed in Thailand and due to be released later this year. His film, 13/13113 followed and his most recent feature, Blood Lake, which aired on Animal Planet, was a ratings hit.

Find James on Twitter – here – https://twitter.com/JamesCullenB