Jessabelle’s fate as an iTunes/VOD release feels well deserved (and certainly ominous) if you take the movie on its own value. Considering that it is much better than the mid-October Ouija, that’s a shame. But Ouija was more marketable to a teen audience, and the movie biz aspect makes sense. Now Jessabelle will allow you to spook yourselves in the privacy of your own home, and there are a few genuine scares to be had. This supernatural thriller starts out strong and maintains a decent atmosphere but then falls apart with the big reveal.
The lowdown: Jessie/Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) has endured a terrible set of tragedies. She was raised by her aunt after losing her mother at an early age. Now a car accident has killed her boyfriend (Brian Hallisay) and their unborn child. To make matters even worse, the accident leaves Jessie wheelchair bound, and she has nowhere else to turn but to her estranged, alcoholic father (David Preston) while she convalesces. Dad’s place is a rural Louisiana house that crackles with rustic “charm.” This movie attempts to set a Southern gothic atmosphere, and in that end, it succeeds. The cinematography is gorgeous and makes great use of the contrast between the sunny outdoor settings and gloomy, claustrophobic interior shots. On the latter note, Jessie doesn’t find her new surroundings very accommodating. Her dad isn’t thrilled to have his daughter underfoot again, and the house itself is bursting with menacing shadows and supernatural weirdness.
Jessie finds herself situated in the old bedroom of her mother (Joelle Carter), and she discovers some old VHS tapes that her mother recorded for her benefit. (Of course! This is a horror movie, after all.) Mom gives her unborn daughter a tarot reading, and the results are not positive. This scene seems terribly silly on paper, but it’s the most emotionally resonating part of the whole movie. Mom’s concern for her daughter on the other end of the tv screen is palpable, and the two women are somehow able to bond through an outdated mode of technology. Yes, the VHS tape is a well-worn trope throughout the horror genre, but this particular gimmick succeeds through competent scripting and the actor’s performances. Plus, Joelle Carter is a goddamn Southern treasure.
Oh, did someone say “gimmick”? This film is full of them, and — aside from the aforementioned scene of emotional resonance — this production is not terribly original at all. The entire film rolls around in the swampiest, most clichéd depths of horror movie tropes. It is almost entirely derivative with nothing new to bring to the table. Somehow, Jessabelle does not fail entirely. Jason Blum produces, and as always, his movies bleed into one another. There’s a fair amount of Sinister vibe at play. This movie also couldn’t resist a homage to the tried-and-true girl with stringy hair (Amber Stevens, channelling The Ring’s Samara), who stalks Jessie and grows more hostile as time passes. Aside from the supernatural menaces, Dad makes Jessie’s existence pretty rough. He overreacts (a few times) when he discovers Jessie watching the VHS tapes. His reactions are unhinged.
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Dad’s final overreaction engineers his own demise, and Jessie finds herself even more alone and isolated as crazy hair woman’s visits become progressively disturbing. In order to unravel the mystery of why this ghostly presence won’t leave her alone, Jessie recruits an old high school love machine, Preston (Mark Webber). Exactly what the hell is going on in this house may have something to do with the surrounding culture and some voodoo sh*t. Yeah. They went there. And like I said, the final reveal is pretty damn infuriating and kills every smidgen of goodwill that the film so painstakingly builds in the first few acts.
There isn’t too much gore in this movie, but there are numerous deaths and some tasty projectile vomiting to witness. The cast fares well and doesn’t embarrass themselves. Sarah Snook stands out from the material as one to watch. She plays Jessie not as a victim but as a genuinely terrified young woman who is strong enough not to completely lose her mind in a crazy situation. As she slowly loses contact with the world and the body count grows, Jessie finds herself increasingly isolated, with nowhere to turn, and no ability to run. This story carried a lot of promise, but the sweet setup is lost when the film sh*ts the bathtub. And I hate it when a lovely bath gets ruined.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.