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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Jessabelle  (2014)
2½ Stars
Directed by Kevin Greutert.
Cast: Sarah Snook, Mark Webber, Joelle Carter, David Andrews, Amber Stevens, Ana de la Reguera, Chris Ellis, Brian Hallisay, Larisa Oleynik, Vaughn Wilson, Fran Bennett, Paul Garrett.
2014 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and terror).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, January 12, 2015.
A ghostly fable involving voodoo, black magic and quite literally buried family secrets, "Jessabelle" keeps one guessing even as some of its plot curves are delivered with less than delicate hands. The film's most considerable asset is the casting of Sarah Snook, a relative newcomer with the presence, charisma and dramatic gravitas needed to offset the story's intermittently preposterous leanings. Snook stars as Jessabelle ("Jessie" for short), a young woman who returns to her backwater hometown of Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, to stay with her estranged alcoholic father (David Andrews) while recuperating from a tragic car accident that took the life of her boyfriend. Temporarily confined to a wheelchair, the strong-willed Jessie already feels more vulnerable than normal when she starts experiencing supernatural visitations from a dark-haired woman also in a wheelchair. When she find several videotapes that her late mother (Joelle Carter) made for her before passing away in 1988, she is overjoyed to get to see footage of her for the first time, but increasingly dismayed by her mom's portentous Tarot card readings that foretell of a violent death in Jessie's future.

At a time when so much supernatural horror gets bogged down by a reliance on nothing more than loud music stingers, "Jessabelle" stays classier—at least for its first hour and change-as it juggles a character study with unnerving interludes where spectral presences go bump in the night. Director Kevin Greutert (2009's "Saw VI" and 2010's "Saw VII") and screenwriter Robert Ben Garant (2007's "Reno 911!: Miami")—the latter in quite the departure from his typical comedic work—have crafted a humid, threatening, Bayou-based mystery. While the second half starts to severely push one's suspension of disbelief as Jessie continues to stay in a place that is violently haunted, its willingness to move away from typical tropes found in this kind of movie is worth acknowledging. Sarah Snook is superb as Jessie, her character stuck in a tough physical and financial position with only a married high school friend, Preston (Mark Webber), to which to turn. It is her personal struggle to change her fate that makes "Jessabelle" an alternately kooky, effectively low-key chiller worth seeing.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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