Set in present-day Louisiana, “Jessabelle” tells the story of a young woman, Jessie, who is forced to move from an unnamed place back to her hometown, St. Francis, Louisiana. Once there, Jessie must confront what seems to be an evil spirit that has been waiting for her return for years. Within the first five minutes of director Kevin Greutert’s 2014 horror movie “Jessabelle,” it’s clear that nothing will happen in this film that we haven’t seen before.
A young girl and her fiancé are preparing to move in together. They are driving to what I assume is their new house, laughing and talking, when suddenly a truck smashes into the driver’s side of the car. Fast forward to our main character lying on a hospital bed, learning that not only is she temporarily (how convenient) paralyzed from the waist down, but also that her fiancé died and she has suffered a miscarriage as a result of the accident. So far, “Jessabelle” hasn’t done anything that many horror movies before it have not done. Unfortunately, the predictability does not stop there. Of course, Jessabelle’s only living relative is her father, from whom she has been estranged for years. If that wasn’t predictable enough, cue the revelation that her mother has been dead for over a decade after a struggle with cancer that began while she was pregnant with Jessabelle.
Perhaps if “Jessabelle” had not relied on the most generic horror movie tropes to set up its plot, the film could have been at least a little interesting. Regrettably, the director’s decision to give into the horror genre’s overuse of unsurprisingly static-y radios, discovery of lost tapes, rekindled high school romances and sorry excuses for scares soil the film from the start. To make matters worse, the main character, Jessie Laurent, played by Australian actress Sarah Snook, relies on a horrible Southern accent to do her acting for her. Snook’s terrible accent only makes it harder to listen to her parrot out her horrible dialogue. How are you supposed to enjoy a film if the title character’s voice grates on your eardrums?
Greutert attempts to make up for the film’s predictability by incorporating a tale of forbidden love between Jessie’s mother Kate (played by Joelle Carter) and an African-American member of her mother’s not so shockingly voodoo obsessed church, Moses (played by Vaughan Wilson). It is revealed later in the film that Jessie’s mother had a child before she had Jessie, a child whose father was Moses. Outraged by Kate’s actions, Jessie’s father violently acts out against the small infant and her father. However, this “twist” is not enough to save the film. Newsflash to Greutert: We’ve seen forbidden love and voodoo for centuries now.
One of my biggest issues with the film, however, is not its horrible plot or horrible acting. My issue is with how much potential this film had, and how much that potential was wasted. It seems reasonable to assume that the film’s title, “Jessabelle,” is a direct reference to the biblical figure Jezebel. Much like Jezebel, Jessie’s mother Kate dabbles in an unpopular and non-accepted religion. Similarly again to Jezebel’s story, the actual Jessabelle in the film dies a horrible death. At the most basic level, Jezebel and Jessabelle are also both vengeful women who would do anything to get what they want, even if it means killing the innocent.
Most of the film’s potential comes from the thought-provoking way in which it translates the Jezebel story to contemporary times. But why did Kevin Greutert waste any time with Sarah Snook’s character, Jessie? It would have been far more interesting to watch if not so much time had been spent on Jessie’s relationship with her father and her high school sweetheart Preston (played by Mark Webber). Instead we get scenes detailing the animosity between Jessie and Preston’s wife, and scenes with awkward conversations between Jessie and her father Greutert should have shown us more of what Jessabelle could do besides spew black goop all over everyone and yell at the top of her lungs. (When will this monster cliché ever stop? It’s seriously overdone.) Seriously, why tell us all about how vengeful Jessabelle can be and then leave us waiting for her to actually do something to prove your claim? You’re wasting both our time and yours, Greutert.
Nevertheless, despite its universally horrible reviews (the film received a 25 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes), “Jessabelle” is one of few horrible movies to come out of the Blumhouse Productions production company. Blumhouse is responsible for the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, the “Insidious” franchise and the “Purge” franchise, as well as the 2014 film “Whiplash” starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, which has received five BAFTA nominations, five Academy Award nominations and won one Golden Globe Award. Hopefully Blumhouse will stay away from churning out films like “Jessabelle” and instead turn back to their more successful franchises and standalone films. It would be a blessing for the production company and viewers alike.
Overall, if you’re looking for a film with even just subtle variations on classic themes in the horror genre, you will not find them within “Jessabelle.” If, however, you want a similar film that avoids clichés, you should probably try out director Mike Flanagan’s 2013 horror film “Oculus,” which stars Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites. Or perhaps you could just rewatch Paranormal Activity?