I was under the impression for the first ten minutes of this that I was reviewing Annabelle, the spinoff about that creepy doll from The Conjuring, and waiting for the doll to turn up while some girl loses her fiancé and unborn child in a car wreck in the first couple of minutes.
I began to clue in when I realised that girl’s name was, in fact, Jessabelle. So, car accident, and she goes home to a sweaty childhood home in Louisiana to be looked after by her estranged father because she has no friends. She and her wheelchair get installed in her mother’s old room, and creepy stuff ensues.
Not creepy enough though, unfortunately. Jessie’s mother knew she was going to die pretty soon after giving birth, and left a bunch of VHS tapes for her then-in utero daughter to see. These videos mostly seem to be tarot readings, and mostly grim ones about how Jessie is haunted and there’s someone in the house and she’s probably dead by now.
Her mother actually recorded these things and decided it would be a sensible thing to leave to her child. They’re mildly creepy anyway, and set up the central mystery that Jessie and some dude she used to know have to investigate. Namely, what’s going on here.
The mystery is actually reasonably interesting, and well thought out, and when they figure out it I was left thinking, hm, that was quite clever. Not as good as trying to find out who the girl in the well was in The Ring, but in the same vein. I just didn’t particularly care about the characters doing the investigating. Remember that car accident at the beginning, fiancé and unborn child killed? Could use that for character depth, or a callback? Never mentioned again.
The scary bits aren’t that great. There’s a ghost, obviously, and it turns up in the usual ways; the background when someone is looking the other way, the mirror, the other seat in the car. I gave props to Mirrors, starring Kiefer Sutherland, because when he saw scary stuff, turned away and turned back, it was still there, which isn’t done very often.
In Jessabelle, the scary stuff is still there, but then tries to punch you in the face or grab your leg, at which point it’s lost its impact, it’s just a gross looking person having a swing at you, which is happening in a Wetherspoons somewhere at any given time. It’s done in quick, action movie cuts as well, which promote confusion more than fear.
By the end, the line between ghost and exposition device has blurred so much, that dead people just start turning up to talk about what’s going on, it’s pretty weird.
There’s been a lot of slickly produced horror out in the last couple of years, mostly families getting terrorised by stuff in their homes.
This will slot nicely in the middle of all that, it’s not a complete waste of time, but you can probably find something better.