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Movie review 'Jessabelle': A melancholy horror film that will remind you about VHS tapes

Published Dec 13, 2014, 1:26 am IST
Updated Mar 30, 2019, 7:27 am IST
This horror story squanders a charismatic performance from Sarah Snook
A still from the film 'Jessabelle'
 A still from the film 'Jessabelle'

Director : Kevin Greutert

Cast : Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, Joelle Carter and David Andrews


Rating : Two stars

It seems like Jason Blum and his production company, Blumhouse Productions, are continuously churning out quality, low-budget horror, with hits like ‘Insidious’, ‘Sinister’, ‘The Purge’, and ‘Paranormal Activity’ under its belt. With such a large slate of successes, it’s easy to become interested in anything that may have the Blumhouse tag, so one would be naturally hopeful for its newest release, Jessabelle. Despite its promising cast in Sarah Snook and Mark Webber Jessabelle doesn’t manage to be anything more than the next forgettable haunted house story.

The movie opens with its eponymous heroine (played by Sarah Snook) heading into such a bright future that you know it can’t last long. As one would predict, a very unfortunate accident lands her in a wheelchair and she heads back to her family home in the deep woods of Louisiana, living with her father Leon (David Andrews). Her mother is long gone, having died when Jessabelle was a baby, but the mother comes back into her life via videotapes Jessabelle discovers in the house.  With technology literally taking over our lives,  it is kind of charming to see a film  in which the found footage is on old-fashioned VHS tapes.

After finding the stack of these old tapes from her mom warning her of a painful death, Jessie  starts witnessing some strange visions that progressively become more vivid and violent. From here we are given bits and pieces about Jessie’s past, which eventually leads to Voodoo rituals, vengeful spirits, possessions and murder. While this may sound like a good scare on paper, most of the film is a slog that keeps the scares to a bare minimum.

While the script contains the right elements to create a serviceable horror film, but there is nothing interesting about its execution. Much of the dialogue feels ill-timed and unnatural, like when Jessie’s father says “This was your mother’s room,” when she first arrives. If she grew up in this house, wouldn’t it be safe to assume she knows the layout of the house?

After re-uniting with Preston (Mark Webber), a high-school boyfriend , Jessie and he begin to investigate the strange happening and the film begins to pick up some steam. Unfortunately, this buildup just leads to another VHS tape that includes one giant expository eruption explaining the entire movie. This reveals the inevitable twist, which puts forward a host of questions. There are couple fine ghost scares, and some grandly ripe VHS messages from beyond the grave

Sarah Snook’s performance is the best part of this film deserves a mention. Her character gets a raw deal from the minute the camera starts rolling, and Snook handily conveys the dread, sadness, and fear one might imagine this situation would cause.

Given the location, it’s not giving anything away to note that voodoo plays a part in Jessabelle’s plight, with the familiar trappings and an element of racial conflict that the movie incorporates without truly engaging it. The biggest disappointment is the ending, which ties up all the story threads with a flurry of hasty, flashback-enhanced climax, though it does conclude with a wicked little punchline (which is where you see Snook delivering her best ).

Jessabelle is just another in a long line of scary stories that have been coming out on a nearly weekly basis, and while it may be more inventive than something like ‘Ouija’, it still doesn’t amount to be anything more than a forgettable thriller that will hopefully result in more work for its lead actress. This horror story squanders a charismatic performance from Sarah Snook, as the wheelchair-bound shut-in an old rickety house so decrepit it could only be on the cover of a paperback.