What’s it About?
Returning to her childhood home in Louisiana to recuperate from a horrific car accident, Jessabelle comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return — and has no intention of letting her escape.
Directed by Kevin Greutert
If you enjoy a backwoods bayou thriller with some J-horror thrown in for good measure then you may not go too wrong with the latest in the roulette wheel of low budget indie horror named “Jessabelle,” from director Kevin Greutert (Saw VI, Saw 3D) and writer Robert Ben Garant (Herbie Fully Loaded). It is a southern fried spook story (Think “Skeleton Key” meets “The Changeling”) that just about tosses in every cliche, supernatural circumstance and manipulation to keep it going.
Somewhere on the surface there is a decent, if not remarkable, story to be told here among the picturesque trappings. But, ultimately, the movie gets bogged down in the very mire that permeates the watery slivers of mystery and dread that flows through-out Greutert’s film. What works is the gothic / voodoo imagery but little else. There is just way too many things here we have all seen before that prevents it from being or becoming unique and substantial.
Actress Sarah Snook (Who has great eyes which she emotes with wonderfully) who plays Jessabelle, is recovering from a terrible auto accident that resulted in the death of her unborn child and fiance (Is there no other way to die in these films?). With no one else to turn to, and without the use of her legs, she is forced to live temporarily with her surly, liquor abusing and widowed father, Leon (David Andrews of T3 and Fight Club). He settles her into her mother’s old room, which is cordoned off with a large cabinet for some reason. Once Jessabelle adjusts to her new surroundings and connects with a childhood friend, named Preston (Mark Webber), she comes across a batch of old and dusty VHS tapes of her deceased mother, Kate (Joelle Carter of Justified).
Missing the connection she never really had with Kate, Jessabelle immerses herself in the maternal but strange messages left by her mother on the VHS tapes. Apparently, Kate, is a tarot card specialist and gives Jessabelle “readings” from beyond. Leon finds out and totally freaks out exclaiming to Jessabelle that her mother’s cancer had consumed her and she did not know what she was doing recording the vignettes which appeared to be directly meant, oddly, for Jessabelle. During all of this time, we are pummeled with fake out, psychological scares and frights. None of which are very inventive or exclusive.
We have seen it all at one time or another: The apparition in the mirror, the nightmares, things going bump, J-horror inspired ghouls and liquor bottles flying around. It’s all here. While the film takes a step back with the out-right gore, the movie does establish a mood and some atmosphere that balances out the more pedestrian scares, through-out. (Let’s not forget the loud musical jumps that amount to absolutely nada).
Greutert’s movie is a split film. What he tries to accomplish with the fore-mentioned atmosphere is commendable. There are nice shots of the bayou, dilapidated southern houses, trailers, and foliage. Then there is some well placed mood like when Jessabelle tries to desperately find out why she is having these horrific things happen to her. But when we are about to examine the mysterious prospects of the riddle, we then get the stereo-typical horror shenanigans. For example: We are treated to a ghoulish scare in the bathtub, because THAT’S never been done.
What had me flustered was that Greutert didn’t need to resort to all of these machinations. He almost had a pretty solid framework for a psychological character study about loss and grief interwoven with a stylish gothic conundrum. Too bad. There were one too many fake outs where we are left rolling our eyes at the whole “everything is in her head” routine. SHE sees these funky things but the rest of the world does not. Yawn.
I must admit, I was still curious to see how the film would end. Why is Jessabelle seeing these things? What is the real message behind the VHS messages from Kate? Why is Preston, who is married, so willing to help Jessabelle out all the time? Who is the wet ghost chick that keeps popping up? (There is a subplot which involves the skeletal remains of an infant and some adultery but it is fleeting). Well, Greutert does manage to wrap things up quite nicely but it is too little too late. You would have already made up your mind on the film by the time it concludes. The twist is rather hokey but a not a total loss, it’s just that we had to suffer such banalities to get there and when we do, by the final shot and twist, we kind of just sigh and shrug rather than exclaim it’s ingenuity.
Oh well, there is always the next low budget ghost story to consider from that never ending assembly-line of horror flicks. “Jessabelle” is an almost decent time waster if you are depleted of good to average genre films to watch. It is mostly uneventful and lazy in many parts with too many unsettled and unrealized ideas and themes. The southern mood and creepy atmosphere is not enough, sadly, in the case of “Jessabelle.” Consider a rental before purchase! (Or just re-watch “Jug Face”)