If nothing else what you can say about Jessabelle is that it is beautifully shot in a stunning part of the world. The location is a visual treat, this often works well for many horror films, countryside settings often give a natural reason for the silence that is needed in the odd scene of a horror movie.
What I found interesting about the first act of Jessabelle was the use of colour in the house, in scenes where Jessabelle was looking at things from her’ childhood the unimpeded sunlight penetrates into every corner of the house; this is to illustrate that things were easier for her as a child. The house at night is an entirely different story. Due to the woody surroundings of the house; the green from the trees and the murky waters of the lake, the house has a mysterious green filter over everything. This was not only a clever tactic to submerge the viewer in the world Jessabelle is trying to create but a interesting horror technique, it means there are many places for the spirit to hide. Due to the obscured view of the room the ghost could be hidden anywhere. Like many horror techniques this one is trying to play on a inherent fear in many humans, think about it, how many people say they are afraid of jumping into a body of water when they can’t see the bottom? Many will tell you that it isn’t the water, its what could be in it. There is something in that and I think Kevin Greutert knows it. This is why he aimed to make Jess’ room look like the lake outside the house. Given the importance of the lake to the story, especially its importance to the family that once dwelt in the house it is interesting that the colours of the lake itself appear to creep into the home.
Although I thought the first act had an interesting and focussed atmosphere I found one particular element incredibly frustrating. The main character exploring either a new house or an old house they used to live in is a tried and tested, dare I say overused trope of horror movies. It was disappointing to see a film that up to this point was very unique, using a generic and boring tactic. It was particularly irritating given how long these scenes were, filler moments as long as these in a movie as short as Jessabelle is no good thing.
The sequence that stood out to me was when Jess’ mother gives her a tarot card reading on a VHS tape recorded before she died. The scene went from sweet to tense and creepy in an intelligent way. The other stand out moment of the first act was the spirit rolling towards the bed in the wheelchair and reaching through the curtain that surrounds it. The curtain being positioned in the same place as the night before indicating that something had physically moved it was an interesting take on something that has been done many times before. The scariest moment of the movie was the scene in the bath, it is just a shame that this moment wasn’t all that scary; just mildly tense with one well done jump scare.
Though the soundtrack was effective and well and the scenes around the swamp with the gravestone were the definition of weird everything after this point was boring and failed to muster up any tension or fear. It had an interesting story up to a point after which it became needlessly convoluted. The occasional moments of creepiness are the only saving grace of an overall boring movie. Clocking in at only an hour and a half, Jessabelle feels about four hours long.