Review by Joe Lopez
To me, as a native and relatively sheltered Texas, the state of Louisiana seems like a magical place. Granted, this opinion is colored based on only two locations: the city of New Orleans and the bayous. New Orleans, while being a mostly modern city, holds pockets of shadow and history that make it fascinating. The bayous, though, feel like mysterious stretches of primordial nature; a foreboding keeper of secrets.
One secret it has let slip is “Jessabelle”.
Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) is on her way to a new life with her significant other – a new home and a new baby on the way. Unfortunately, a funny thing happened on the way to that new life, though… specifically a tragic car accident with deprived “Jessie” of her new life, her boyfriend, her baby and, more or less, the use of her legs. With nowhere else to go, she returns to her family home to let her father (David Andrews) take care of her. Confined to a wheelchair (and thus, to the lower level of the house) she’s forced to stay in her mother’s old room. In there, she finds a videotape meant for her on her 18th birthday. As the only connection to her mother (played by “Justified”’s Joelle Carter) – who died while Jessie was still young – she watches it. Mom turns out to be a novice tarot reader and tells Jessie some interesting things. Before too long, strange and spooky occurrences begin.
“Jessabelle” is the first directorial effort from Kevin Greutert since the terrifically disappointing “Saw 3D: THe Final Chapter.” Greutert, more or less married to the “Saw” franchise in one way or another since its inception, gets to flex a different set of muscles. Here, he transitions seamlessly from the urban decay of that byzantine universe to the murky, haunted bayous of Louisiana. Working from a script by Robert Ben Garant (whose more recent fare has been “Mr Peabody and Sherman” and the “Night at the Museum” series), “Jessabelle” is a serviceable little ghost story that fits in well with the current crop of supernatural thrillers: it’s pretty, it has pretty stars and it’s just a hair over mediocre. Not to say it doesn’t try.
It’s a nice outing for Greutert who, after many years, must be tired of rust and barbed wire. He has a solid cast lead by Snook, as our heroine in search of answers, Andrews as her equally haunted father, Carter as the mysterious mother and Mark Webber as a childhood friend who helps with her search. But while these elements are good, they are just good and seem fairly content not to aspire to anything better.
“Jessabelle” continues the trend of ho-hum horror that’s good enough for a matinee date but might be a stretch for a full-price investment. For genre fans, it’s a yawn waiting to happen. And maybe this is no secret after all.
Technical: 3.5 – Beautifully shot by cinematographer Michael Fimognari (who also shot the similarly haunting “Occulus”). Solidly directed and acted, but nothing spectacular.
Gore: 1 – None to really speak of – typical of most ghost stories.
Horror: 2.5 – Having cut his teeth in the genre, Greutert, does a good job of creating suspense but drops in too many cheap jump scares for my tastes.
The B-Factor: 1 – Straight up suspense with no cheese or cheek.
Overall: 3 – “Jessabelle” is a middling ghost tale with some bright moments. It’s great for a date movie or a non-genre fan but barely an appetizer for a horror fan.