Signal Horizon

See Beyond

SXSW Review-Jethica- Straight-Faced Supernatural Comedy Serves Up Surprising Delights

Peter Oh’s Jethica mixes genres and jokes into a milkshake of ghostly laughs and paranormal circumstances.

 Callie Hernandez, Ashley Denise Robinson in Jethica | Credit: Pete Ohs

Genre mixing is hard to do, particularly in horror-comedy. Dark supernatural comedies are almost impossible. There’s something inherently sad about ghosts and spirits, even if they haunt you. Things are usually too scary, too funny, or too absurd to be enjoyable. There are gems like the untouchable Shaun of the Dead and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, but for every Evil Dead, there is a Tremors 3. Peter Ohs’ third feature film Jethica is a rare example of the former rather than the latter.

Jethica is one of those films that sneaks up on you. It lures you in with its matter-of-fact delivery and world-weary dialogue. It opens with Callie Hernandez’s Elena in the backseat of a car after a hook-up telling a story. She impassively tells her date she once killed a guy, and that singular line sets up the mood and every joke in the film. We are then transported to the past, where Elena reunited with her friend Jessica(Ashley Denise Robinson) in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. Funny in its slacker sensibility, this film unfolds in unexpected ways.

Hernandez and Robinson have an effortless nonchalance to their relationship that reads as time served. They haven’t seen each other in years, and yet they fall back into the rhythms of friendship. Right away, it’s obvious we are missing significant parts of this story. Jessica is entirely too nonplussed by her stalker ex-boyfriend, who she fled to New Mexico to get away from. She unemotionally lets Elena listen to his countless alarming voicemails and shows her a pile of his obsessive mail from just the past two weeks. Elena matches her inscrutability when waving at a lurching young man she claims is her friend as he trudges along a road. Elena also hardly reacts to the mountain of disturbing correspondence from her stalker.

There’s something too relaxed about the women. You aren’t sure what’s wrong, but something is off. When Elena’s stalker Kevin, a deliriously unhinged Will Madden, shows up at her house ranting about his love, no one is all that concerned. Jessica insists it can’t be him and we learn quickly that she is right to think that. Before you can digest that bit of news, Elena hatches a plan rooted in folklore and ancestry that would be ridiculous if not delivered with such stony perfection.

Both of these women have demons they are trying to outrun. We all do, and in that intersection between Kevin’s advanced level ranting, the women’s relatability, and Jessica’s resigned unemotionality is a nugget of something more profound. Ohs’ film says a lot about friendship, vulnerability, trauma, and depression. Jethica does it all while making you laugh in just over an hour. The film concludes with a beautiful symmetry that echos the women’s friendship. It’s surprisingly endearing.

There’s a melancholy overtone that hangs oddly over everything until you are unexpectedly struck with sadness about what the film is really trying to say in between the deadpan jokes and endless wild rants from Kevin. If given a little more playtime, this plot beat would be more impactful. This is a minor complaint, though, in an otherwise spot-on film. It is succinct and exacting from a storytelling standpoint, and the New Mexico setting is lovingly shot, becoming an integral part of the tale.

Jethica feels more like an episode of a great anthology or mystery box series on Apple TV+ that knows how to do genre entertainment better than anyone but maybe Showtime right now. It’s not a complaint, just a wishful thought that this could be more. Who knows, perhaps it will be expanded into something bigger. It certainly deserves it.

Jethica is a vicious little piece of work masquerading as a gentle supernatural comedy. Peter Ohs’ film is smarter than it first appears, weaving creative elements together to create something utterly unique and laugh-out-loud funny at times. It premiered at SXSW this week. You can find all our SXSW coverage here.