"We will cast a shadow over you that cannot be distinguished from Fate". So begins JESSABELLE, with this text from 'Legends of Haiti' as its sombre onscreen introduction.

Pregnant Jessabelle (Sarah Snook) is leaving her student house in preparation of moving in with her boyfriend when we first meet her. Alas, as he drives her round to his place, a truck crashes in to the side of his car - and he dies upon impact.

Jessabelle is saved by a subsequent operation but her baby is not. To add to this heartbreak, she learns that she is crippled following the accident. The doctors tell her she will learn to walk again in time, but for now will need someone close to care for her. Hmm. Well, her mother died of cancer shortly after giving birth to her, and the aunty who then raised her has also passed away. So it's left to drunken daddy Leon (David Andrews) to take her back to her childhood home and tend to her needs.

Upon arriving at said home, Leon shifts a bookcase that's been blocking the entrance to a room downstairs and tells Jessabelle she can sleep in there. It used to be her mother's room, he informs her. Later, while home alone, Jessabelle does some snooping around and discovers videotapes that her mother had prepared for her before dying and upon watching them discovers mother was into tarot cards and the like. Small wonder then that Jessabelle is getting plagued by nightmares (a ghostly girl; a charred man etc).

Watching the videos while Leon's not around, Jessabelle gradually learns that a supernatural force in the house does not want her there. But who is the female presence from her past that is intent on haunting her, as foreseen by her mother some 18 years earlier?

This is what Jessabelle must discover for the sake of her own sanity. Luckily she has her dead mother, mom's freaky old church pal Moses (Vaughn Wilson) and former school pal Preston (Mark Webber) on hand to help solve the mystery.

JESSABELLE is directed by Kevin Greutert and written by Robert Ben Garant. Between them they barely muster a single original idea. The bedridden house guest forbidden from snooping around in the housekeeper's absence is straight out of MISERY; spooky hallucinations are designed in a manner which recalls every J-Horror flick ever; a scene in which Jessabelle dreams she's being attacked by a scrawny feral girl in the bathroom seems uncannily familiar to an albeit far bloodier moment from MARTYRS; the video-recorded warning messages from beyond the grave? There will be better examples, I'm sure, but off the top of my head I'm going to have to go with Randy's posthumous cameo in SCREAM 3...

The direction is oddly flat. All expositional scenes drag, while the supposedly scary moments are curiously devoid of tension or suspense. Snook, while very easy on the eye, doesn't really have that necessary connection with her audience: we never feel her fear. Andrews is a caricature, while the likes of Webber and Wilson are stupidly peripheral.

It's all very by-the-numbers, the way it rolls out. The script is dumb, the actors often wear confused expressions while reciting it ... Just about all JESSABELLE has going for it is the fact that it's nicely photographed and scored.

So, how does the film look? Predictably, extremely attractive. The anamorphic transfer boasts strong warm colours, true flesh tones and pin-sharp imagery. There's no ghosting or noise: it's a tip-top presentation.

English 5.1 audio is good too, the Gothic score coming across well during the earlier moments while the sound design really comes to the fore during the noisier later stages. Optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are well-written and easy to read.

Lionsgate's UK DVD opens to a boisterous animated main menu page - lots of stirring music and demonic groaning going on. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.

Extras kick into being with an audio commentary track from Greutert, Garant and executive producer Jerry Jacobs. Recorded in October of last year, we learn first of all that it was shot 4 or 5 years earlier. Garant speaks of his transition from writing comedy to scribing horror; Greutert is animated when singing the praises of his young stars. Genre tropes are discussed and clearly respected throughout. Jacobs is a lively chatter to start with, but his input soon dwindles as events progress.

We also get an 8-minute featurette taking a look at the on-location shoot of the film. This is entitled "Jessabelle: Deep In The Bayou" and proves to be a fairly engaging, slickly assembled affair.

7 minutes of deleted scenes include alternate opening titles along with clips given misleading headings such as "Porn and Chicken" and "First Hand Job". Relax, it's just additional dialogue for the most part. There are 7 scenes in total, which can be watched either in isolation or in a consecutive run.

Outtakes are always weird, aren't they? They're not really charming unless it's some big star fucking up. And, of course, these types of productions don't boast such heavy duty names. So instead we get 2-and-a-half minutes of actors we don't really recognise giggling during filming. Ho-hum.

There's also a 71-second clip which offers an extended version of the film's ending. I can't really speak of this at any length without delivering a 'spoiler', but what I can say is that the additional footage contained here is totally redundant: the filmmakers were right to trim it.

JESSABELLE takes the good old-fashioned ghost story template, swathes it in attractive production values and employs a pretty young thing to front it. And yet, it still manages to be tired, charmless and boring.

By Stuart Willis

Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review