10th Feb2015

‘Jessabelle’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, Joelle Carter, David Andrews, Ana de la Reguera, Amber Stevens, Chris Ellis, Brian Hallisay, Vaughn Wilson, Larisa Oleynik, Fran Bennett, Lucius Baston | Written by Robert Ben Garant | Directed by Kevin Greutert

jessabelle-cover

Jessabelle is yet another in the long line of Blumhouse-inspired supernatural thrillers that have flooded the market since the success of the like of Insidious, The Conjuring et al. This time round we follow a young woman, the titular Jessabelle, returning to her childhood home in Louisiana in order to recuperate from a horrific car accident which killed her boyfriend – on the very day they were set to move in together (oh the irony). Once settled in, she comes face to face with a long-tormented spirit that has been seeking her return; and – in a complete twist – has no intention of letting her leave. Dun dun dun!!!

OK, so maybe I’m being a little harsh on Jessabelle, but at first glance it does seem to be as derivative as many of the straight to DVD “supernatural” movies that have become the horror blue print thanks to the aforementioned Blumhouse productions – right down to the DVD artwork. However scratch beneath the surface and there’s actually an interesting story here that has more in common with The Skeleton Key and The Serpent and the Rainbow than Paranormal Activity and Insidious. Yes, Jessabelle is actually a deep-south set tale of voodoo and vengeance… And it’s that take on terror that saves this film from complete “generic horror” mundanity. Well that and the great cast.

Yes, once again, it seems another Hollywood horror movie is saved by its cast (lets leave all the innovation in storytelling to the low-budget indie producers shall we Hollywood?) In this case it’s both Sarah Snook, as the titular character, who manages to walk the fine line between vulnerable and inquisitive in her portrayal of a woman torn apart by the accident yet impassioned enough to disobey her father in the pursuit of the truth about what’s going on; and the ever-underrated Mark Webber (who is excellent in the likes of 13 Sins and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Jessabelle’s childhood friend, and current confident, Preston. The duo have a real chemistry which means that not only is their relationship utterly believeable but when each is put in peril you really feel the emotional trauma wrought on the other.

However it’s not all a total success. There are some problems with Jessabelle – namely the supporting cast. Jessabelle’s mother and father both start out as interesting characters but come the films ending they’re nothing more than caricatures: a one-dimensional loon and her less-than-normal husband. And who didn’t see that coming!

Interestingly, Jessabelle forgoes – for the most part – any real scares, especially those of the jump variety (although something has to be said regarding the “bathtub” scene which harkens back to J-Horror and their ilk). Instead the film builds plenty of tension and suspense, keeping both its main character and, in turn, the audience on their toes. The film is a far cry from director Kevin Greutert’s previous work on the Saw franchise – this is a much more subtle affair, a more traditional-like ghost story than one would expect from someone so entrenched in the “torture-porn” arena. It’s both a surprise and a welcome revelation. It’s obvious that Gruetert knows horror and, even better, he knows how to get under the audiences skin without resorting to utilising too many cliches of the genre.

A surprisingly enjoyable, if not totally original, slice of Southern Gothic, Jessabelle is out now on DVD from Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

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