Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Horror Violence and Terror
Directed by: Kevin Greutert
Written by: Ben Garant
Starring: Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, Joelle Carter, David Andrews, Amber Stevens & Ana De La Reguera
I saw the trailer for JESSABELLE in front of THE QUIET ONES in April. That’s back when this year was looking up for quality horror films on the big screen (AS ABOVE, SO BELOW looked good at the time). Things changed when something happened that scared Lionsgate into morphing their release strategy for JESSABELLE entirely. The film was moved further back to November (not exactly ideal seeing that Halloween season is over) and decided a Limited/VOD release would be more appropriate. The big catalyst for this was THE QUIET ONES bombing hard and I can safely say that JESSABELLE probably would have too at the box office. However, this begs the question of this film possibly being horrendous like other recent PG-13 supernatural crapfests that have been shelved (7500, THE DEVIL’S HAND)? Well, this one’s more of a mixed bag than bad…
Jessie is a young woman whose life is shattered by a terrible car accident. The collision with a semi-truck kills her fiancé and the baby inside of her. Now a paraplegic and flat broke, Jessie relocates to her reclusive father’s isolated home. Their father-daughter relationship is already strained when Jessie discovers video tapes containing recordings from her deceased mother on them. As she watches the tapes, more about her mysterious past is revealed and it appears that she’s being haunted by a violent presence. With the help of her childhood friend (Preston), Jessie tries to uncover the dark mystery that may relieve her of this haunting but also might open up new doors with darker things in store.
Props to JESSABELLE for being the first PG-13 movie in a long time that doesn’t solely rely on cheap fake-out jump scares. Rest assured, there are still handfuls of them, but not nearly enough to be annoying and the film doesn’t use them as its only frights. There’s a strong Southern bayou atmosphere being built through the whole film (nice to see characters using appropriate accents too) and there’s actually time given to character development (heaven forbid we see that in a horror film!). Jessie is a likable protagonist who actually cared about (for the most part). Even the standard sidekick Preston is given a little more fleshing out than you’d usually expect from this type of film. The tension between Jessie and her constantly pissed off redneck father isn’t used as much as it could have been, but it’s a nice touch as well that adds a real-world threat to accompany the supernatural one. It should also be said that this film dives into voodoo (not a spoiler at all), so we’re given more creative reasons for Jessie’s troubles than your average haunting is doing it.
As much as a praise the character development here (as I sorely miss it from most modern PG-13 horror flicks), the film is a little too slow-paced for its own good in a couple of areas. Potentially freaky scenes are rushed and other developments (a reveal near the ending) drag their feet for too long. The formula of Jessie sticking in VHS tapes of her dead mom and spooky stuff ensuing is a little silly, but JESSABELLE is a mystery at its heart and delights in toying with the viewer. The ending is pretty frickin’ solid too, though a flashback-laden reveal sequence might disappoint a few a viewers. The answer to exactly what is going on could have been brought to light in far scarier ways than someone pretty much telling the viewer everything that’s going on. This being said, it’s semi-original and effective. The very last scene is fantastic and left me satisfied.
Praise for JESSABELLE in that it’s a new PG-13 supernatural horror film that winds up being better than most of its current kind, even R-rated fare from earlier this year (DEVIL’S DUE comes to mind). It’s a slow-burn mystery centered around voodoo that does suffer from iffy pacing at points and a cheap reveal a cool ending. Those who dig on this film might also want to check out 2005’s highly underrated SKELETON KEY which also deals with voodoo in a slow-burn approach too (also a far scarier and more clever story as well). Anyway, while it’s not necessarily ground-breaking or particularly special, JESSABELLE is flawed, but decent. Definitely watch this one over OUIJA or THE QUIET ONES any day of the week!