Jessabelle (2014) / Horror-Mystery
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of horror violence and terror
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, David Andrews, Joelle Carter, Amber Stevens
Director: Kevin Greutert
Screenplay: Robert Ben Garant
Review published November 9, 2014
Jessa-blecch is more like it.
Sarah Snook (Not Suitable for Children, Sisters of War) stars as Jessie, full name: Jessabelle, a 26-year-old woman who returns to her childhood home in southern Louisiana (North Carolina substitutes) after a car accident that has taken her boyfriend's life (and her pregnancy) and has left her unable to walk for a spell. She is (barely) cared for by her hot-tempered, alcoholic father (Andrews, Fair Game), who puts Jessie up in her deceased mother's room as it is the only bedroom with which she can access from her wheelchair. Strange things begin to occur: Jessie suffers from vivid nightmares, strange visions, and, after discovering a shoebox containing VHS tapes under mom's bed with her name on it, containing visions of her pregnant, cancer-stricken mother (Carter, American Pie 2) reading tarot cards for her yet-to-be-born daughter to view on her 18th birthday, warning of her imminent death and all manner of haunting details that seem to not ring true (at first).
Kevin Greutert, who directed the final two Saw films (can it be said he killed the franchise?) after editing the previous five, can't deliver any interest in this tepid PG-13 outing, or even some requisite jolts, out of a terrible screenplay by Robert Ben Garant (Balls of Fury, Night at the Museum), best known for playing Deputy Travis Junior on "Reno 911!", that telegraphs every plot point well in advance. If you can't figure out the mystery as to why Jessie is getting incorrect tarot readings and is haunted by a freaky young woman seemingly trying to drive her out of the home, you've probably not actually been watching (and good for you). Not that the mystery is a bad one, but it's definitely the kind of stuff that would play far better coming from people who actually know how to build mystery and suspense, not to mention those who would do it with far more taste than this seemingly exploitative telling that relies on outdated Cajun-country stereotypes.
Narrative shortcuts abound in which these thinly defined characters do things no one in their right mind would bother to do in order to try to serve up some chilling moments. Would you bother to dig up a grave site in a swamp in the dead of night after you've been encountering menacing supernatural visions and murderous actions? I didn't think so, but the makers of this formula flick still think it's plausible. In fact, the entire secondary character of Preston (Webber, Scott Pilgrim), an old beau from high school she left behind to pursue college and a career, is there merely to pull Tab A and turn Knob B for the narrative convenience of continuing to divulge the mystery that you'll easily have guessed at long before the supposedly shocking reveal.
Jessabelle has a nice look to it, and the actors aren't poorly cast, but this script is DOA due to its inherent lack of plausible character motivation, as well as the porous way it handles the mystery regarding the hows and whys of the deadly hauntings. Once you've figured it out, which won't be too long in coming, the only question left unanswered will be why you've continued to watch.
©2014 Vince Leo