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.
I’d seen lots of promotional material for Jessabelle over the last few months, so I was admittedly surprised when it got such a quiet, low key release last weekend. Not that I was particularly looking forward to it, but I have been surprised by some extremely well done films that have gotten little to no promotion in the past. Would Jessabelle be one of those under promoted surprises, or is there a reason that it’s out there and you don’t know about it?
Jessabelle stars Sarah Snook as the title character, who finds herself in an unfortunate auto accident as the film begins. An accident in which her husband & unborn child die, and temporarily leaves her without the use of her legs. After her hospital stay is over, she has no one to take care of her except her estranged father, Leon (David Andrews), who lives in a house in the swamps of Louisiana. Upon her arrival, she often sees a shadowy figure looming over her, and the more time she spends with her dad in his home – the angrier the figure gets. Jessabelle also discovers a series of videotapes which feature her late mother, Kate (Joelle Carter), and are hidden away in different areas of the house. In these tapes, Kate tells her daughter that she’s dead! But Jessabelle is alive & (relatively) well so what the heck is she talking about? Jessabelle finds herself trying to piece together the clues that her mother has left her, and figure out what’s going on with the shadowy figure that’s steadily tormenting her, before she loses her mind – and maybe her life.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Jessabelle is a ghost story with a hint of voodoo tossed into the mix. Written by Robert Ben Garant (of RENO 911 fame), and directed by Kevin Greutert (Saw VI, Saw 3D: The Final Chapter), it opens as an interesting and creepy little movie. But soon devolves into a standard, trope filled bore that would be better suited as a film created for the Lifetime Network. Quite reminiscent of Skeleton Key (2005) at times, it has tons of atmosphere and at least a modicum of dread, but none of that matters if it doesn’t bring along any scares to the mix. And Jessabelle just isn’t scary in the least.
Sarah Snook is a name I’m unfamiliar with, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that she isn’t an interesting face and the best thing in this film. She’s easy on the eyes, and inhabits the character of Jessabelle completely. Actually, there are no bad performances in the film. Greutert gives his actors enough freedom to bring their characters to life, and all roles are essayed convincingly. The beautiful Louisiana settings really help to complement the goings on and are lovely to look at. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari (Oculus), gives the bayou a gorgeous, ethereal glisten which belies the supposed terrors hidden beneath it. Emphasis on the word “Supposed”.
But all of this is for naught, because Jessabelle just isn’t scary. It plays more like a southern drama with a hint of nastiness underneath it. This is a big problem since it’s supposed to be a horror film. There are those who’ll disagree with me, but I honestly believe that if any of what happens during Jessabelle actually scares you, then you haven’t been watching horror films for too long. Perhaps I’m jaded, but when someone tells me that I’m about to watch a horror film – then I expect to see some damned horror. I don’t mean blood & guts (although Jessabelle could’ve used some – the film is basically free of any red stuff), I mean some good old fashioned scares. It’s content to slather a bunch of slime onto it’s ghost (who is very very reminiscent of Samara from 2002’s The Ring by the way), and have Jessabelle scream at the top of her lungs at a ghost that no one else can see but her. That, dear acolytes, ain’t scary.
I firmly believe that films Jessabelle can kill the horror genre, at least in the theatrical sense. Horror films naturally go through cycles of popularity, and during these times a good percentage of them went the DTV route, as no one was paying to see them in a theater. These times generally occurred when the majority of horror films produced were scare free drivel like Jessabelle. People just aren’t going to pay $10 or more to go to the theater expecting to see a scary movie, and end up being scared at the fact that they have to figure out how to make up the $10 they just spent afterwards (I’m not even including the cost of snacks). The glut of found footage films & fright less pablum like Jessabelle are strong indicators that another era of horror films that bypass theatrical release completely is coming upon us, although some would say that era has already reappeared.
If you’re interested in a fair to middling southern fried drama with some atmosphere, then Jessabelle will be right up your alley. If you’re looking for a scary movie (as its being promoted as), then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Jessabelle is a good looking, but boring exercise in PG-13 fright fare that won’t frighten you in the least.
BLU-RAY/DVD SPECIAL FEATURES*
Audio Commentary with Director Kevin Greutert, Writer Robert Ben Garant and Executive Producer Jerry P. Jacobs
“Jessabelle: Deep in the Bayou” featurette
Jessabelle is now available on bluray per Lionsgate
Jessabelle – 2 out of 5 shrouds.