November 05, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

This Southern Gothic ghost story is something of an odd duck, as one might expect given its parentage. Jessabelle is directed by Kevin Greuteut, who capably oversaw the last two entries in the SAW franchise. But the screenplay is by Robert Ben Garant, who, as a Reno 911! cast member and cowriter of the first two Night at the Museum films, is much more accustomed to raising laughs than the hairs on the back of viewers’ necks. The movie stars Sarah Snook as Jessie, a young woman forced to move back in with her Louisiana swamp-dwelling father (David Andrews) after a car accident puts her in a wheelchair—and her boyfriend in the ground. Before long, Jessie is being troubled by both a shadowy, seemingly malignant figure and videotapes made long ago by her now dead mother (Joelle Carter) that show her using tarot cards to read her offspring’s fortune. We’ll spoil no more of the plot, except to say that the ensuing supernatural mayhem involves both voodoo and the always welcome Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as one of Jessie’s old high school friends. While this Blumhouse production may be a less ruthlessly efficient scream machine than, say, its corporate sibling Ouija, it is much more atmospheric and benefits from a winning central performance from Snook. Like several of the film’s characters, Jessabelle may linger for a while after it is theoretically finished. B


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