Jessabelle (PG-13)

Horror 90 November 7, 2014
By Alan Scherstuhl
This Southern-goth timewaster squanders a charismatic performance from Sarah Snook, as the wheelchair-bound shut-in in a plantation house so decrepit it could be on the cover of a paperback Absalom, Absalom! There's a couple fine (but gratingly shriek-y) ghost scares, and some grandly ripe (and dopily predictable) VHS messages from beyond the grave. But the central mystery drags, its clues never really registering -- they just accumulate, along with hints of backstory, a laundry-like pile you would prefer not to deal with but will have to sort through eventually. Snook is brittle and sometime funny as Jessie, a woman who has lost everything -- and resorts to enticing the old high school boyfriend (Mark Webber) who never got over her. He's married, now, but she's alone in the house -- and totally eager to sleep in front of him in flimsy, low-cut nightwear.

But Snook's too busy being flung about by invisible forces to develop Jessie much more than that, and the best suspense director Kevin Greutert develops is meta: Will the inevitable voodoo knives-and-babies climax come across as a racist boondoggle? Greutert's savvy enough to sprinkle some white folks among his houngans and mambos, but Jessabelle still plays out as Haitian traditions ruining the life of a nice-ish white lady. Mitigating factor for the dreary patches: Jessie's father (David Andrews), annoyed at her snooping around his house, rolls her wheelchair off a pier like that's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
Kevin Greutert Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, David Andrews, Joelle Carter, Ana de la Reguera, Larisa Oleynik, Chris Ellis, Fran Bennett, Amber Stevens Robert Ben Garant Lionsgate Films

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