Am I the only one who gets the overwhelming urge to play the banjo and speak in a Cajun accent whenever watching a movie shot in the bayou? I bet I’m not…but it’s cool if y’all wanna pretend I’m the only weird one here…hmmph.
Set in Louisiana, Jessabelle follows young Jessie (adorable Aussie Sarah Snook) as she moves back home to live with her father in the wake of a terrible car accident. Her boyfriend and unborn child have died (which makes her sad for like a minute) but Jessie survives, although temporarily disabled and needing a wheelchair to get around. Helpless and broke, she moves into her mother’s old bedroom (the door of which is inexplicably hidden behind a large wardrobe) in the house her parents once shared. Her family homestead is a once sprawling waterfront brick mini-mansion that has tragically gone to ruin (no doubt due to Jessie’s father’s rampant alcoholism and general douche-baggery) and is slowly crumbling around them. The house is a character in itself, a little shabby but still eerily beautiful and filled with personality. With it’s creaky floors and fading charm, it practically speaks to Jessie as she makes her way around, searching for pieces of her past.
Fortunately enough, a box filled with VHS tapes from her deceased mother virtually walks itself into Jessie’s lap early in the film, and she pops one in, hoping to feel a connection to the mom she never knew. This part kinda peeves me, because who the frack even has VCR anymore? I mean, I think I still have mine but I’d have to dig through the garage to find it…yeah, I’m gonna stop reading too much into the video thing now.
In the tape, Jessie finds a home video of her mom (Joelle Carter), a lovely beaming blond who is seven months pregnant. “I love you Jessabelle”, her mother says in a voice brimming with maternal affection. The recording sheds a tear, before beginning a tarot card reading for her unborn baby. The reading is ominous and speaks of a dark, broken presence that resides in the house with Jessie; a presence that wants her gone, a presence who believes the house is hers.
This is a ghost story of course, and the angry spirit makes her appearance early and never leaves. Gorgeous young actress Amber Stevens is great in the wholly non-speaking part of the specter, and despite the mute role she is so very charismatic that I wish she’d had more screen time. Stevens and Snook are the standouts here, giving two very solid performances that I’m sure speak of great careers ahead for both.
Now, the movie itself is…not bad. It’s not horrible or anything, but it’s not really all that good either. The entire film is kinda stuffed with bayou clichés, voodoo stereotypes and overused ghost story staples, that as a whole it feels pretty rushed. There are a few decent scares (the bathtub scene is a fun one), but unfortunately they are few and far between; there’s a lot of great potential here, but it fizzles out real quick. Suffice to say the trailer makes it seem much more exciting/interesting than it actually is (don’t you hate that? Cause I sure as shit do).
Like most movies set in the bayou state (but filmed in North Carolina), Jessabelle is very nice to look at, and the visual details (magnolias, moss covered…everything, stereotypical chicken bone voodoo wind chimes, not to mention the swamp itself) add to the overall atmosphere of a Cajun ghost story. But all the build up has no pay off, not a unique one anyway, and irritatingly Jessabelle kinda feels like I’m watching a bunch of Louisiana horror cliches mashed up and shoved into The Skeleton Key (which I did NOT like)
I usually love a good ghost story, because when done right they can be awesome and terrifying, like The Haunting, Burnt Offerings and The Woman in Black. Actually, sometimes when done wrong ghost stories can still be a heck of a lot of fun, like House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts (the ghost with the box on it’s head scares the shit outta me). But this one, I dunno, it’s been done, and way too often; if I can be perfectly honest, I had this whole thing figured out in the first 20 minutes. And that frikin’ sucks!
In the end, this movie could have been awesome; the cast was good, the setting was ripe and ready for scares, heck, even the damn wheelchair was kinda creepy. All the factors were there. I’m not really sure I can pinpoint exactly why Jessabelle doesn’t quite work, but given everything it had going for it, it feels like there could have been something so much more intense, like it was on the cusp of being truly frightening…and then someone said “fuck it, that’ll take too long, let’s make this dull piece of crap instead.”
So, it’s a toss up. I don’t hate it and I think that some people have liked it a heck of a lot, but, I don’t think I’m gonna watch it again, even if I get really really really bored. Meh…at least it’s better than The Skeleton Key…I guess.