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Jessabelle may not succeed in everything it sets out to do and may have some very familiar elements to it’s bayou-set supernatural mystery but, it’s got enough legitimate chills and spooky atmosphere to make it a moderately entertaining viewing.
The story finds twenty-something Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) pregnant and going to move in with her fiancé Mark (Brian Hallisay). But, a horrible car accident takes her fiancé and their unborn child from her and temporarily cripples her. She is forced to turn to her estranged father (David Andrews) and goes to live with him in his Louisiana home on the Bayou. But, as soon as she arrives, she starts to see and hear things and begins to have vivid and strange dreams. She also finds a series of VHS tapes her long-dead mother (Joelle Carter) made for her during her pregnancy, when she found out she had a terminal brain tumor and would not be there for Jessie’s upbringing. But, these tapes are anything but, sentimental. Her mother does tarot card readings that get more and more disturbing and prophetically warns Jessie of a presence in the house that does not want her there… a presence that increasingly makes itself known. Now Jessie must discover who is this restless and angry spirit, what do they want and even more so, who is buried in the bayou-side grave marked with the name Jessabelle and the date of her birth as it’s day of death.
Again, there are a lot of familiar elements in Ben Garant’s script, such as a wheelchair bound subject immersed in mystery, voodoo practices, angry long-haired spirits but, director Kevin Greutert is able to give the film a nice creepy atmosphere, some really spooky dream sequences and uses those familiar elements well enough to give us some decent chills here and there, such as a cliché but, still effective bathtub scene. There is an element of mystery here that works just fine, too and I will say I wasn’t quite expecting things to turn out like they did… though the ‘shocking’ climax wasn’t really shocking. Not everything works, some of the supernatural elements are too familiar and having a voodoo tinged flick set in Louisiana’s Bayou isn’t exactly new. There is also some weak dialog and a major character exits a bit too quickly to have resonance but, Greutert gets through it competently and I think he shows potential with a stronger story and a bit tighter script and he does get good work from his leading lady, which helps us go along with it to a good degree.
Pretty girl-next-door Sarah Snook gives us a solid heroine in her Jessabelle. It helps us get past some of the clichés that she gives her Jessie some intensity and likability. Andrews gives her father an air of a man who knows something he isn’t going to talk about and displays successfully the uncomfortableness of seeing his daughter for the first time in years and having to deal with her snooping into things he feels need to be left alone. Joelle Carter does a nice on-tape performance as her mother, Kate, who dabbled into some kind of voodoo and her performances gets increasingly creepy the further into the VHS tapes we go and it works very well in providing a few goose-bumps despite being nothing new. Rounding out the main cast is Mark Webber as old high school friend Preston who helps Jessie in her investigation and provides a little sexual tension despite his character being married.
So, Jessabelle isn’t a great movie and probably not an overly memorable one but, it takes it’s familiar story and time honored supernatural elements and creates a moderately entertaining enough supernatural mystery/thriller. There was some nice atmosphere and director Greutert used his locations well and did give us some chills despite walking ground tread frequently. The cast all handle the material well despite some clunky dialog and leading lady Sarah Snook gives us a serviceable heroine to root for. Sure, we’ve pretty much seen most of it before but, it kept my attention and the big reveal worked well enough as long as you don’t analyze things too much. There are better supernatural horrors out there but, certainly far, far worse.
2 and 1/2 VHS tapes.
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