Magazine article Variety

Swamped by Cliches

Magazine article Variety

Swamped by Cliches

Article excerpt

Not to be confused with "Annabelle" (although that could only help commercially), "Jessabelle" serves up a murky and underwhelming cauldron of Southern-fried voodoo-horror claptrap. Scaling down a notch into PG-13 territory after two baekto-baek "Saw" sequels, director Kevin Greutert manages some nicely drawn-out tension in isolated sequences, but novel twists and effective scares prove few and far between in this ludicrous bayou gothic about a wheelchair-bound young woman excavating a series of unusually dark family secrets. Although Lionsgate's campaign is touting the involvement of producer Jason Blum (of the "Paranormal Activity," "Sinister," "Insidious" and "The Purge" movies), audience prospects look just middling, and franchising opportunities moot, for this post-Halloween theatrical and VOD release.

It takes barely five minutes for red-headed twentysomething Jessabelle, aka Jessie (Australian actress Sarah Snook), to lose her b.f. (Brian Hallisay) and their unborn child in a horrific car accident. Two months later, significantly recovered but still unable to walk, she heads back to Louisiana to live with her father, Leon (David Andrews), in the ramshackle old house he once shared long ago with her mother, who died of cancer not long after childbirth. Jessie was raised elsewhere in town by her aunt, and so this return to the family abode is not exactly a homecoming. The gruff, hard-drinking Leon is a virtual stranger to her, and he overreacts badly when he catches her watching a collection of VHS tapes that her mother, Kate (Joelle Clark), apparently made for her while Jessie was still in the womb.

Soon enough, Jessie finds herself creeped out by intensely vivid glimpses of a dead swamp girl (Amber Stevens) who resembles a cross between a projectile-vomiting Linda Blair and the longhaired female specters from the "Ringu" and "Ju-on" movies - a device that underscores the picture's debt to Japanese horror. Indeed, while Greutert has a talent for letting suspense mount slowly and often silently, the frights themselves are far too derivative to really deliver.

As the body count rises, it becomes clear that no good will come to those who find themselves in Jessie's midst, which doesn't bode well for Preston (Mark Webber), an old high-school "friend" who gallantly tries to help her figure out what's going on. …

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