I had no idea what I was diving into with Pete Oh’s Jethica but I sure am happy I tested these waters. Uniquely weaving genres and conjuring up a hilarious—and at times—heartwarming haunting, this story plucked heartstrings I didn’t intend to have exercised, let alone with a film running barely over an hour.
Beginning with an intimate moment in the back seat of a car, we are introduced to Elena (Callie Hernandez). She is distant, but not frigid, casual, and cool. After their interlude, her male companion asks about her living arrangements to gauge future meetings, but almost immediately, that shit is shut down. And here begins the slow-burning mystery that is Jethica.
One day, Elena has a chance encounter with an old classmate while gassing up and invites her friend Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson) back to her home for some coffee and conversation. Despite the fact that Jessica seems distracted, she accepts the invite. Finally feeling safe, Jessica confides in her friend about the traumatic experiences she faced at the hands of Kevin, a man who has ungraciously infiltrated her life. She has fled her home and is in hiding. With this, Elena offers her the spare bedroom in her family’s remotely located trailer. Unusual encounters begin happening, with Elena remaining eerily calm and explaining that her grandmother cast a spell on the land. What ensues is director Pete Ohs’ moving story of personal connection, safety, and boundaries.
Using the beautiful, desolate New Mexican desert during the winter as an incredibly effective backdrop. Filmmaker Ohs perfectly pairs the physical with the emotional landscape. One part drama, one part dark comedy, and one part brilliant showcase of an independent feature firing on all its available cylinders, Jethica hits high notes despite the depressing subject matter sifting to its surface. The cinematography alone—also courtesy of Pete Ohs—is worth the price of admission, but adding in the performances of its fully invested and small cast, this piece of independent storytelling is hard to ignore. I felt conflicted after experiencing empathy for Kevin. He is, after all, a harmful stalker that has been terrorizing a young woman, one who will never forget his unwanted advances and will forever be wary of every person encountering her because of his unhinged behavior. But in a weird way, the performance from Will Madden humanizes him just enough for me to feel sorry for him. He’s lonely and just wants a solid connection with another person, and sadly, he only gains this in the afterlife.
Jethica can be dry for some in certain deliveries, but on the grand scale, it really is a notable addition to this year’s SXSW and worth a gander. Keep an eye out for this sleeper.