Blumhouse Productions, the powerhouse horror factory behind the Paranormal Activity, Sinister, The Purge and Insidious franchises, has backed another winner with Jessabelle, which will hopefully become one of those films which every true horror fan has up their sleeve, ready to whip out when anyone asks, “What’s a really good horror film I haven’t seen?”
When a tragedy cuts short her best-laid plans, and leaves her in a wheelchair, pale and pretty redhead Jessabelle (Predestination‘s Sarah Snook), who goes by the less cumbersome Jessie, has no choice but to return to her rural roots in St. Francis, Louisiana, moving back in with her father. Her father (David Andrews) has lived alone in their once opulent family home since Jessie’s mother, Kate (Justified’s Joelle Carter), succumbed to cancer in 1988, leaving Jessie to be looked after by Kate’s sister. Jessie has barely had time to reflect on her new/old surroundings, or the tragic circumstances that brought her there, when she is plagued by dreams of a sinister presence in the house, leading to a tantalising discovery: a collection of videotapes left by her late mother, intended to be viewed on Jessabelle’s 18th birthday. Initially excited by the prospect of seeing her mother alive, Jessie is dismayed by the contents of the first tape: a Tarot reading that seems to go horribly wrong. But these disturbing revelations are only the beginning of Jessie’s troubles, as horrific event follows sinister discovery, until the full horrifying truth about Jessie’s past is revealed.
Directed by Kevin Greutert (who edited the first five Saw films and directed the final two) and scripted by Robert Ben Garant (who co-created and starred in the comedy series Reno 911! before co-writing the original screenplay for Night at the Museum), Jessabelle looks for a while as though it will be one of those “ghost justice” movies, like The Ring or What Lies Beneath, which were briefly popular in the early 2000s, but proves to be a far more devious and intriguing mystery, the tangled threads of which are parceled out for the audience to weave together into some version of the truth. Garant’s script has all the answers – Jessabelle keeps you guessing, but not beyond the final scene – and Greutert plays out just enough rope without stringing the audience along, a delicate balancing act which both pull off admirably. Snook is impressive in her first leading role, the supporting actors are equally laudable, Anton Sanko’s score is beguilingly beautiful swatch of mournful Southern noir, and Oculus cinematograpgher Michael Fimognari perfectly captures the murk and mire of the Louisiana bayou.
In the UK, Jessabelle is one of the first horror films to be released in 2015, and if there are any more like this out there, it’s going to be a banner year for horror movies.
David Hughes (@DavidHughesTwit)