Film

The Only Suspense in Jessabelle: How Racist Will It Get?

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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 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 flaunt her collection of flimsy, low-cut nightwear. 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.

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