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Jessabelle | Review

Ring Her Bell: Greutert Steps Outside Franchise For Promising Results

Jessabelle Kevin Greutert PosterConsidering that Jessabelle is directed by editor and eventual director of two Saw films, Kevin Greutert (he got credit for six and straight-to-DVD release number seven), his first foray outside of schlock genre isn’t the torporific eyesore one might have predicted. Written by Robert Ben Garant, better known as Deputy Travis Junior from the series “Reno 911!,” the film manages enough general interest to keep us wondering what will happen to its protagonist, even though it’s lack of tension and absence of thrills racks up quite a bit of dismay. Though a pleasantly peculiar finale at last breaks free of its quagmire of cliché, it can’t quite make up for the inert build-up, as well as a handful of illogical details that annul any of the film’s more successful moments.

After a devastating car accident claims her unborn child and her fiancée, Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) is forced to return to her childhood home in Louisiana to be cared for by her father (David Andrews) until she is able to walk again. Wheelchair bound, Jessabelle and her estranged father seem strangely at odds as concerned her dead mother, claimed by cancer when she was a baby. Finding a handful of old VHS tapes addressed to her that were made by her mom during her pregnancy with Jessabelle, dad gets pissed to find her viewing the tapes and destroys them, which results in another freak accident. Reconnecting with an old high school flame (Mark Webber), now married, Jessabelle begins to discover that something very strange was going on during her mother’s pregnancy, and as more tapes appear, she learns that another spirit is stuck in the house with her—a very angry, untoward one.

Jessabelle could have easily lapsed quickly and quietly into the ether of the unnecessary and unmemorable if it weren’t for the screen presence Sarah Snook brings to a rather thankless damsel in distress (despite a sometimes overly pronounced Southern drawl). Yet to be granted a defining breakout role (though hopefully the upcoming release of Predestination should help out with that), she instills us with an interest in Jessabelle, a character that really isn’t all that likeable despite surviving a harrowing tragedy. Her scenario begins not unlike that of Alyssa Paradis’ in 2007’s Inside, though by the time we learn Jessabelle’s secret, the catalyzing car accident that brought her back home seems a bit contrived, and we enter a territory akin to Peter Medak’s superior George C. Scott starrer The Changeling (1980).

Supporting players are less defined, though Mark Webber is serviceable as her old flame, and as her strange father, character actor David Andrews is gruffly effective. The film stumbles with its insistent dependence on a stack of old VHS tapes from Jessabelle’s mother that appear magically to help fill in all the plot holes, set in the late 80s, though they don’t quite seem of the period. One wishes that Garant and Greutert had been a bit more daring with its racial implications (on television, “American Horror Story: Coven” seems less fearful of this), but despite its faults, Jessabelle ends on a devilishly satisfactory note.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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