Saturday, April 24, 2021

Movie Reviews: Jakob's Wife

Jakob's Wife
directed by Travis Stevens
Barbara Crampton is horror/B-movie royalty and has been since her work in Re-Animator as well as her more recent turn in the inventive You're Next. I liked Crampton's acting, but I didn't care for this movie as much as I thought I would. 
There are many reasons for that but I think the most relevant one is that Jakob's Wife is not as much a horror or thriller movie as it is a pandering would be feminist treatise about the evils of marriage for women. A second reason is that even if I freely grant that horror movies can, have been, and even should be used as social critiques and political consciousness-raising tracts, I though this film didn't deliver a good mix between entertainment and commentary.
The filmmaker must make the antagonist worse than a morally dubious protagonist to win viewer sympathy. The Godfather did this well. Though Coppola depicts only criminals, he deftly shows us events through the Corleone eyes. Coppola details antagonist sins but not the Corleone crimes. The viewer identifies with the "good" Mafia Family. Coppola was reportedly concerned by how thoroughly he accomplished this; he therefore went out of his way in the sequel to emphasize that the Corleones were the bad guys. 
Rob Zombie pulled off  a similar trick in The Devil's Rejects. His protagonist family is evil but the members love and sacrifice for each other. The final reason I wasn't that impressed with Jakob's Wife was that once again the Black person (in this case a Black woman) died first.
In Jakob's Wife, the director and writer want to examine marriage's unfairness towards women. Jakob Fedder, a pastor (Larry Fessenden), is losing his wife's affection. Every Sunday Jakob preaches that husbands and wives should love, honor, and protect each other. His wife Anne (Crampton) isn't really feeling the love for Jakob any more. 
Is Jakob a hypocrite? Well probably. We are all hypocrites. 
But is Jakob physically abusing Anne? No he's not. Is Jakob cheating on Anne? Nope. Is Jakob stealing church funds and using that money for gambling or drugs? Nah. Is Jakob hiding guns or laundering money for Neo-Nazis? No he's not doing that either.
Jakob's unforgivable sins against Anne appear to be that he occasionally interrupts her, can be too sure of himself, snores, has put on a potbelly, and brushes his teeth a little too sloppily at night. We watch this last from Anne's lengthy disgusted POV. It's a bit unfair. I don't think too many people are going to be all that physically attractive to their spouse in the moment they are performing basic body functions, let alone after thirty or forty years of marriage.
People fall out of love for many reasons. I couldn't see Jakob as a bad guy or catalyst for righteous female empowerment when his most wicked act is asking Anne if she fixed his breakfast. 
When people live together or get married they have expectations of each other. That's life.

Like many bored housewives Anne has found some purpose in local politics/non-profits. Anne is the driving force behind the planned demolition and replacement of an abandoned factory/mill. That project is about to be brought to fruition. Jakob doesn't care about Anne's leadership and accomplishment. 
Jakob does care about the fact that the developer overseeing the project is one Tom Lowe (Robert Rusler), aka the man who used to know Anne in a Biblical way before Jakob took over that job. But Jakob is neither dominant enough to forbid Anne from meeting Tom nor worried enough to insist on being involved in any meetings with Tom. 
Sure enough when Tom and Anne meet at the factory, Tom wants to see if history can repeat itself. Anne is interested as well, just not quite as much as Tom is. Anne IS married after all. Before Tom can convince Anne to let him put the lime in the coconut, so to speak, they are both attacked. Tom is killed. Anne is not. But Anne has been left with a fierce craving for blood, an interest in wearing revealing clothing, a resurgent sex drive, a sensitivity to light, and a strong desire not to take any s*** from Jakob. Not even a tiny bit.

Anne is also seeing and hearing from the Master (Bonnie Aarons). The eerie Master (and also the film) is convinced that vampirism is liberating for women, or at least some women. The film might have done better to give a larger role to Aarons. Even a man as supposedly as unobservant as Jakob has noticed some changes in Anne. Jakob's not sure about the new Anne. Jakob likes some changes though he won't admit it. 
Still, Jakob is a strong believer in until death do you part. If he can't save Anne, who may not want to be saved, then he'll need to find a way to live with her, won't he? What is the path of the righteous man when his wife is becoming a bloodthirsty vampire?
This film jumps channels dark horror, black comedy, and social commentary. I don't think it pulled it off successfully. I didn't think that the vampire tale worked with a disillusioned older wife story. Or at least Jakob's Wife didn't. The film is visually attractive. Jakob's Wife takes a lot of its look from the TV version of Salem's Lot which in turn derived its distinctive master vampire from the film Nosferatu. There is some cleavage and toplessness. There is a lot of spurting blood, impalings, and sliced throats. But the film only lightly touches on the fear of death and loss that are at the center of the vampire tale. Jakob's Wife is very bloody but rarely scary.
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