Review: ‘Jethica,’ starring Callie Hernandez, Ashley Denise Robinson, Will Madden and Andy Faulkner

March 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Callie Hernandez and Ashley Denise Robinson in “Jethica” (Photo by Pete Ohs)

“Jethica”

Directed by Pete Ohs

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in New Mexico, the comedy/drama film “Jethica” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latina and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman has an unexpected reunion with a former classmate from high school, but this former classmate has a big problem: a stalker who follows her everywhere.

Culture Audience: “Jethica” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in offbeat dark comedies that are unpredictable.

Callie Hernandez and Will Madden in “Jethica” (Photo by Pete Ohs)

The dark comedy thriller “Jethica” blurs genres and cheekily plays with viewer expectations on what the movie is about and how it’s all going to end. Directed by Pete Ohs, “Jethica” has a relatively small number of cast members, and the movie clocks in at 70 minutes. It’s just the right amount of time to tell this story, in what could have easily been a short film. “Jethica” has a simple concept, but it’s depicted in a compellingly eerie way.

Five people have screenwriting credits for “Jethica”: director Ohs and four of the movie’s cast members: Callie Hernandez (who plays Elena), Ashley Denise Robinson (who plays Jessica), Will Madden (who plays Kevin) and Andy Faulkner (who plays Benny). By having so many cast members credited as screenwriters, “Jethica” gives the impression that much of this movie was improvised. And sure enough, in the production notes for “Jethica,” Ohs makes this statement: “Our creative process was an experiment. We went to New Mexico without a script and wrote the movie as we went.” “Jethica” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

On the surface, “Jethica” (which takes place in an unnamed city in New Mexico) sounds like a typical “woman in peril” movie about someone being followed by a stalker. But there’s more to the story than the stalking. The beginning of the film shows a woman in her 20s named Elena having a sexual tryst in the back of a car with an unnamed man (played by Alan Palomo), whose face is never seen in the movie. Based on their conversation, she thinks of him as no more than a casual hookup whom she sees on a semi-regular basis.

During this tryst, he asks Elena why she hasn’t invited him to her home. She explains that she has a roommate and doesn’t want to deal with scheduling their hookups based on when the roommate will be home or not. Elena then tells him that about a year ago, she lived alone in an isolated trailer that she inherited from her grandmother.

Elena states matter-of-factly that the reason for her seclusion was “because I killed somebody.” Elena’s lover responds sarcastically, “I had no idea I was hooking up with a murderer.” Elena then begins to tell what happened when she lived alone in that trailer. The movie then switches to flashback mode for nearly all of the story.

The flashback begins with Elena getting gas for her car at a gas station, where she randomly sees Jessica, a former classmate from high school, who’s getting gas for her own car. Elena and Jessica haven’t seen each other since they were high-school students. Their reunion starts off a little awkward, because Jessica doesn’t seem that happy to see Elena. Jessica comes across as uncomfortable and a little standoffish when talking to Elena.

Jessica says that she used to live in California, but she left because she had a stalker. She then moved to Santa Fe, but the stalker found her there too. Jessica says she’s on a road trip but doesn’t mention where she’s going. Elena invites Jessica to her place to hang out and have some coffee. At first Jessica says no, but then she changes her mind.

While Jessica follows Elena back to Elena’s trailer, she notices that Elena has stopped on the road to say hello to a man in his late 20s or early 30s. He seems to be walking with a slightly off-kilter gait and has a vacant stare. It’s unclear if the man is homeless or not. When they get to the trailer, Elena explains that the man’s name is Benny, and he’s a platonic friend of hers.

Jessica begins to open up to Elena about her stalker ordeal. She says that her stalker is a man named Kevin Morris, whom she barely knows, but somehow, he became obsessed with her. Jessica also mentions that the police won’t help with her stalking problem because Kevin didn’t break any laws by showing up in public in the same places where Jessica was.

However, Jessica shows Elena some of the creepy videos and letters that Kevin sent her. Although he never threatened her with bodily harm, his rantings became increasingly hostile because he became upset with Jessica for not responding to his communication. Kevin talks with a lisp, which is why the title of the movie is “Jethica.”

Elena generously tells Jessica that she can stay in Elena’s home as long as Jessica needs to stay. For now, Jessica just accepts the offer to stay the night. But it isn’t long before a man shows up outside the trailer. He restlessly paces back and forth and yells out Jessica’s name repeatedly.

A terrified Jessica peers out the window and is certain that the man, who looks a lot like Kevin, can’t possibly be Kevin. How can she be so sure? Who is this man? And how did he find Jessica in this very remote area? Those questions are eventually answered in the movie.

“Jethica” is a very atmospheric film that makes great use of the scenic vistas in New Mexico’s desert landscapes and Puebloan ruins. (The movie was filmed in Estancia, New Mexico.) “Jethica” director/co-writer Ohs is also the movie’s producer, cinematographer and film editor. Some of the sunset and nighttime shots in the movie are as breathtaking as they can be foreboding, because most of the movie takes place in a remote area where something ominous always seems to be on the brink of happening.

It’s not quite a horror film, but “Jethica” has some aspects of supernatural horror. Still, viewers should not expect major terror or chase scenes that are typical of supernatural horror movies. The movie has plenty of suspense and touches of sardonic comedy that make it worthwhile to viewers who can appreciate eccentric, low-budget films.

“Jethica” isn’t a movie where people give award-worthy performances, although all of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. That’s because all of the movie’s characters in this New Mexico desert area are guarded about something. The secrets that come out are what people will remember most about “Jethica.”

Review: ‘Beast Beast,’ starring Shirley Chen, Will Madden and Jose Angeles

June 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Shirley Chen and Jose Angeles in “Beast Beast” (Photo courtesy of Vanishing Angle)

“Beast Beast”

Directed by Danny Madden

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed state in the U.S. South, the dramatic film “Beast Beast” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Three young people’s lives are forever changed by an act of gun violence.

Culture Audience: “Beast Beast” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching “slow burn” movies where the movie’s biggest impact doesn’t happen until the last 20 minutes of the film.

Will Madden and Jonathan Silva in “Beast Beast” (Photo courtesy of Vanishing Angle)

The lives of three young people collide in “Beast Beast,” a patchwork-like, dramatic observation of the devastating effects of gun violence. If viewers have the patience to sit through the meandering tone of the first two-thirds of the movie, then they’ll find that the last third of the film is where the heart of the story is.

Written and directed by Danny Madden, “Beast Beast” takes its time to let viewers get to know the story’s three main characters, who live in an unnamed city somewhere in the Southern part of the United States. All three of the young people who are at center of the story are very different from each other, but by the end of the movie, they will all have something in common.

Krista Zhang (played by Shirley Chen) is a pretty, smart and popular student in her last year of high school. She comes from a stable, middle-class household where her parents (played by Kurt Yue and Grace Rowe) seem to be very loving and supportive of her. Krista is an aspiring actress and is very involved in the school’s drama department. She is kind, generous and open-minded. Although she hangs out mostly with a racially diverse clique of other artistic/creative students, Krista isn’t afraid to make friends with other students outside of this clique.

Nito (played by Jose Angeles) is new to the high school, and he’s in the same graduating class as Krista. Nito is a quiet misfit who has recently moved to a working-class area of the city with his scruffy single father (played by Matt Skollar), who has an emotionally distant relationship with Nito. Money is so tight in their household that Nito doesn’t have his own phone, so he has to use his father’s phone. One of Nito’s biggest passions in life is skateboarding. He has videos of himself doing some skateboard tricks that he’s uploaded on the Internet.

Adam Manigan (played by Will Madden), who lives next door to Krista, is a 24-year-old aspiring YouTube star who’s still living with his parents. (Will Madden is “Beast Beast” writer/director Danny Madden’s younger brother.) Adam is a gun enthusiast whose YouTube channel (called Prime Shooter) does tutorials on how to use guns.

Adam’s parents Lance (played by Chip Carriere) and Mabel (played Cynthia Barrett) are skeptical that the YouTube channel will be a viable way for Adam to make a living. However, they don’t discourage Adam from working on his YouTube channel. The family members even discuss the YouTube channel when they have guests over for dinner.

Most of “Beast Beast” shows snippets of Krista’s, Nito’s and Adam’s lives until it becomes clear how they will be forever connected in a way that they did not plan or expect. Krista is an ideal student who excels in school. But she’s not completely uptight, because she likes to party too. Her partying is considered tame by many of her peers’ standards, because she’ll have only a few alcoholic drinks, she doesn’t do drugs, and isn’t the type of person to get highly intoxicated.

Soon after Nito and his father move into their apartment, Nito meets a troublemaker named Yoni (played by Daniel Rashid), who graduated from the high school a few years earlier. Yoni is a neighbor of Nito’s, and one of the first things that Yoni does when they meet is offer Nito a cigarette and invite Nito to a party. Nito gets arrested at the party when the cops arrive to break up the loud and rowdy bash, and Nito is caught getting into a fight that he didn’t start. The arrest gives Nito a “bad boy” reputation at the school.

Yoni hangs out with two other people who are around his early 20s age: Lena (played by Anissa Matlock) and Jarrett (played by Stephen Ruffin), who are literally Yoni’s partners in crime. The three troublemakers entice Nito to become part of their thieving activities, such as shoplifting food from grocery stores or breaking into stores and houses and stealing what they can. Yoni and Jarrett don’t seem to have jobs, while during the course of the movie, Lena gets fired from her retail store job. Later, as an act of revenge, the four of them go to the store at night when it’s closed to break in and steal things.

Nito is so desperate for approval and to fit in with a group of people, he doesn’t comprehend that Yoni, Lena and Jarrett don’t really care about Nito. They’re just using Nito because his skateboarding skills have given him more agility than the other three to do things like jump on roofs or slide into cramped spaces. Nito does whatever Yoni, Lena and Jarrett tell him to do, such as being the one to put himself at the most risk in these break-ins.

Meanwhile, “good girl” Krista and “bad boy” Nito start to get to know each other better, but Nito doesn’t tell her about his criminal activities. Nito has an immediate crush on Krista, but it takes her longer to warm up to him. Eventually, Krista starts feeling attracted to Nito too.

Nito and Krista bring out the sensitive and goofy sides of each other. He also shows an interest in artistic activities and she’s impressed by his skateboarding skills. At one point in the movie, Krista (who likes to do acting improv exercises) acts out a sketch in a rehearsal room with Nito, while he improvs a drum solo on a drum kit in the room.

Adam has been frustrated with the slow growth of his YouTube channel, which only gets less than 100 views per video. He spends a lot of time trying to make his videos more enticing. But he gets a lot of negative comments on his videos. Adding to his frustration and anger, Adam’s father informs Adam that it’s time for him to move out of the house and be on his own financially.

It should come as no surprise that Adam is a loner. The only person he’s seen hanging out with is an acquaintance named Nick (played by Jonathan Silva), who helps him with camerawork on Adam’s YouTube videos. Because “Beast Beast” telegraphs so early that Adam fits the profile of someone who’s prone to commit gun violence, it’s not hard to figure out who’s the ticking time bomb in the story. The only question is, “What’s going to happen?”

The overall tone, pacing and acting performances of “Beast Beast” serve the story well, but they’re not particularly outstanding, compared to other movies that tackle a similar subject matter. The title of the movie comes from the opening scene of Krista and other members of her drama group chanting, “Beast beast! Ready to act!” as a warm-up to their acting routines. Krista’s circle of friends from these drama classes include Cody (played by Marvin Leon), Johanna (played by Courtney Dietz), Jazmine (played by Airaka Nicole) and Silva (played by William J. Harrison), but these friends’ personalities aren’t given enough screen time for them to be particularly memorable or impactful in this story.

The last 20 minutes of the film cram in some events that seem a little bit rushed, but it can also be interpreted as how quickly lives can be permanently altered by a split-second, irreversible decision. “Beast Beast” doesn’t seem to do any moralistic preaching about gun culture, but the movie does take a look at various opinions on when and how guns should be used. The melodrama in the last third of the movie is a mostly effective counterpoint to the movie’s earlier scenes that show the mundane activities of people who are unaware of how drastically their lives are going to change.

Vanishing Angle released “Beast Beast” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2021, and on digital and VOD on May 4, 2021.

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