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Film Review

JAKOB’S WIFE (2021) Review

Neil reviews Shudder’s JAKOB’S WIFE calling it “a heady mix of comedy, human drama and horror.” Stream the film from Aug 19.

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Jakob's Wife (Shudder)

Jakob’s Wife is written by Mark Steensland, Kathy Charles and Travis Stevens and produced by Barbara Crampton, Bob Portal, Inderpal Singh and Travis Stevens. Executive producers are Rick Moore, James Norrie and Nina Kolokouri. Director of photography is David Matthews, and the film is edited by Aaron Crozier and Travis Stevens. Original score is by Tara Busch. The film is available to stream now via Shudder.

Synopsis

Anne is in her late 50s and feels like her life and marriage have been shrinking over the past thirty years. Through a chance encounter with a stranger, she discovers a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than before. However, these changes come with a toll on her marriage and a heavy body count.

Review

It’s fair to say that the vampire movie is still recovering from the emergency of the Twilight Saga. Those sparkly, YA-friendly vampires certainly brought the genre to a whole new audience. But they also dulled the sharp edge of the vampire’s fangs. As such, we’ve seen little high-profile vampire movies in the years since Twilight drew to a close.

Now, director Travis Stevens and actor/producer Barbara Crampton are taking back control. Jakob’s Wife sits on a very accessible and recognisable foundation. Anne (Crampton) is in her late 50s and has faded in to the background. Her husband Jakob (Larry Fessenden) is a small-town Pastor with antiquated views on women and marriage.

The first act of Mark Steensland and Kathy Charles’ story sets up Anne’s life perfectly. Crampton is often seen without makeup, dressed in plain clothing. She often lingers behind her husband, shrinking behind him. Also, Anne rarely speaks up in conversation with parishioners instead opting for an uneasy silence. Crampton’s performance in these early scenes feels worlds away from her more iconic roles. But the actress is more than capable of the dynamic range a character like Anne calls for.

When Tom (Robert Rusler), an old flame of Anne’s, rolls in to town she is swept up by his attention. The simplicity of the narrative makes it easy to see how Anne was easily caught up in the moment. Unfortunately that moment leads a run in with the monstrous Master (Bonnie Aarons) and begins a transformational journey for Anne.

The classic portrayal of the woman bitten by a vampire is as the victim. For example, look at any portrayal of Mina or Lucy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Retreating to their beds; hiding their wounds, slowly and quietly passing away. That is anything but the case with Anne. Jakob’s Wife flips the vampire genre on its head by using Anne’s transition as a source of empowerment. Allowing Anne to find her power and her identity through her newfound strength. It prove a perfect analogy for anyone of Anne’s 50 searching for a new sense of self in mid-life.

Both Anne and Jakob take compelling emotional journeys through the rest of the film. Anne feels a sense of shame, hiding her change from her husband. There’s a palpable flirtation with the darkness within, as well as a fear of the unknown. Crampton communicates Anne’s journey unequivocally through a nuanced performance. Additionally, the script calls for a refreshing mix of comedy and human drama which Crampton deftly navigates.

For Jakob, that journey is about recognising Anne for who she is. For instance, when he catches Anne drinking from a neighbour on the kitchen floor, he chastises her. His belief is that Anne is a woman who needs rescuing and he see’s himself as the hero. Her situation speaks directly to the mission of God which he has dedicated himself to. Initially this sets them both on different paths and it feels the inevitable conclusion will end their marriage.

Jakob’s Wife makes a number of unexpected and satisfying decisions. For example, casting Bonnie Aarons recognisable to many as The Nun – as The Master. Having the head vampire not overtly-male helps to reinforce the message of empowerment for Anne. Had the vampire been male it could have taken away from the delightfully feminist message underpinning the story.

At its conclusion, Jakob’s Wife offers up the potential for more storytelling. Despite being a self-contained story, there is still plenty of opportunity to find out what happens next to Anne and Jakob. Or even to go back and explain the story of The Master. What Steensland and Charles have inadvertently done is open up the possibility for a world where the vampire story can be re-written in new and exciting ways.

Composer Tara Busch underpins the narrative with a beautiful score. Its roots sit in the world of classic horror but much like the story opens it up to a contemporary audience. Shades of darkness echo those in the story whilst lighter notes reflect its comedic edge. The comedic edge is also brilliantly reflected in the film’s practical effects. The Master’s makeup is outstanding, echoing the classic Nosferatu look. That design follows through to the fangs worn by other vampires, one of the film’s most intimidating effects.

Standing in contrast are the outlandish blood splatter effects. Over the top, unbelievable and exhilarating to watch. It recalls an era of horror storytelling during which Barbara Crampton made her name. As far as legacies go, Jakob’s Wife is the perfect way re-stake Crampton’s claim as an icon of the genre.

Verdict

A heady mix of comedy, human drama and horror makes Jakob’s Wife a breath of fresh air in the vampire genre. Empowering and unexpected, the film is anchored by a wonderful performance from Barbara Crampton as Ann.


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