Zohra Lampert stars as the titular Jessica, looking to make a fresh start after a recent nervous breakdown. Along with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor), Jessica seeks a new life on a small secluded island on a lake in Connecticut. Upon their arrival at their new home (“the old Bishop place”), Jessica and Co. find the mysterious Emily (Mariclare Costello), a beautiful hippy squatter, inside. Yes, there is such a thing.
Before long, Jessica begins hearing voices and seeing mysterious figures draped in white- has she truly recovered from her illness, or is there really something sinister going on in this idyllic small town?
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death opens with what is ultimately the last shot of the film- Jessica alone, adrift on the lake in a rowboat. In voiceover, she says:
I sit here and I can’t believe it happened. And yet, I have to believe it. Dreams or nightmares, madness or sanity. I don’t know which is which.By the movie’s end, we’re not sure if the events that have transpired actually happened or if it was all a product of Jessica’s damaged mind…the movie raises more questions than it answers, and we’re left wondering what to think. This lack of clarity helps create an uneasy feeling in the audience, which is the whole point of this flick- to make you feel unsettled. And you know? It really works.
Director John Hancock masterfully uses visuals and sound to create a movie that feels like a dream- Jessica is about mood, not plot. There are whispered words, there are noises, there are figures lurking in the corners, just out of focus. Along with the stellar soundtrack, these elements all combine to make one creepy film. Creepy is really the only way I can describe it, and there simply aren’t enough creepy movies out there. It’s a vampire movie without the fangs and the capes. It’s a gothic movie without the puffy shirts and the castles. And the lady in the water here is much more frightening than anything M Night Shamalamadingdong could conjure up.
A huge factor in the success of this film is the performance by Zohra Lampert. She’s simply astounding in the title role, by turns sweet, charming, terrified, and tortured. It’s a multi-layered performance of a caliber you don’t often find in horror films- nuanced and mature . I wanted to give the poor thing a hug.
I realize I maybe haven’t told you anything concrete about this film- it’s really one you should experience without knowing much about it first. However, I can’t say I’d recommend this film to hardcore fans of modern horror- Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is not a linear film that spoon-feeds the audience. It’s not flashy and it’s not full of action and jump cuts and gore. It’s a subtle film, one that aims to hypnotize rather than dazzle. It’s about mood and style and the unexplained and imagination and the mind…and if your tastes in horror run more towards the sensational action-packed or exploitation flicks, you’re going to be bored. Fans of Hostel, move along…there’s nothing to see here.
They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore. I was mesmerized, and I give it 9 out of 10 magic boxes of hair dye.