Sunday, August 1, 2021

JAKOB'S WIFE Blu-ray Review




Jakob’s Wife (2021) d. Travis Stevens (USA) (98 min)

Mouselike Anne (Barbara Crampton), having spent the last 30 years living in the shadow of her small-town minister husband Jakob (Larry Fessenden), is tempted to explore her baser desires when an old flame (Robert Rusler) comes back to visit. But while indulging in a few stolen kisses in the basement of the old deserted mill, Anne encounters an ancient vampire who puts the bite on her, awakening a voracious lust for life and, well, blood. Needless to say, his bride’s newfound empowerment and desire for an undead life on her own terms puts a strain on the man of the cloth’s worldview, as well as highlighting his own latent patriarchal tendencies. Can Anne and Jakob’s marriage survive, not to mention the rest of the congregation, who now look a lot like lunch?

Stevens, the robust producer of so many recent worthy independent efforts (A Horrible Way to Die, Big Ass Spider, Cheap Thrills, Starry Eyes) made his directing feature debut two years ago with Girl on the Third Floor starring Phil Brooks (aka former WWE wrestler CM Punk, who puts in an appearance here as a dopey deputy). It’s good to see him back behind the camera, as he clearly has a passion for the genre and desire to contribute artistically in all ways.


While struggling tonally in the film’s first half (did we really need to have Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting” on the soundtrack to clue us in?), he hits his stride once geysers of blood start erupting and the lead characters race to literally clean up the mess.


However, his script, co-written with relative novices Mark Steensland and Kathy Charles, is the most problematic element, with stilted dialogue clunking so clumsily out of characters’ mouths that it proves genuinely off-putting. Luckily, the unconventional plot points lead to more naturalistic exchanges as the narrative progresses, but it’s pretty rough going for the first 20 minutes. (Note to all: Work on your exposition set-up and character development.)


Crampton, who will always be “the hot chick from Re-Animator and From Beyond” for an entire generation of then-adolescent ’80s-era heterosexual boys, is enjoying quite the third act in her lengthy career, having bounced back and forth between her soap opera roots (Days of Our Lives, Guiding Light, The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful – over 500 episodes all told) and scream queen cult status (Chopping Mall, Castle Freak).


Over the past few years, she has been given prominent roles in numerous genre efforts, including You’re Next and Beyond the Gates, but this may be her finest showcase to date, with her character’s arc actually moving the narrative as opposed to reacting to it.


She is well-matched by her We Are Still Here (also produced by Stevens) co-star Fessenden, a longtime favorite of this writer, whether as an auteur (No Telling, Habit, Wendigo, The Last Winter) or straight performer (We Are What We Are, I Sell the Dead, Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America). With his high forehead and Nicholson-like features, the screen veteran expertly juggles the dramatic and comedic elements, never pushing so far into camp territory as to lose the reality of the situation.


He and Crampton play off one another like the old pros they are and their scenes together are the glue that binds and the fuel that drives. (Kudos to Stevens for including some gratuitous middle-aged nudity as well!)


The rest of the ensemble provides fine support, including newcomer Nyisha Bell, Mark Kelly (The Hot Zone, The Do-Deca Pentathalon), Sarah Lind (Wolfcop), Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Vamp, Sometimes They Come Back), and The Nun herself, Bonnie Aarons, as a gender-bent version of Reggie Nalder’s Kurt Barlow from Salem’s Lot (which was itself a riff on Max Schreck’s Count Orlok from 1922’s Nosferatu).


What starts off as a seemingly conventional vampire flick evolves into a legitimate exploration of gender bias and ageism, and it is this that sets Jakob’s Wife apart from the crowd. While not an unqualified slamdunk, it brings enough new fresh ideas and imagery to the party to warrant a hearty recommendation.






BONUS FEATURES:

The Making of Jakob’s Wife
Deleted Scenes


Jakob’s Wife is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from RLJE Films and can be ordered HERE or watched streaming on Shudder.


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2 comments:

  1. Looking forward to this one. And I am one of those kids who developed a lifelong crush on Crampton, so that's a plus.

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    1. I think you will enjoy it (and her) well enough. She and Larry are clearly having a good time, and in some ways that's the secret sauce that carries the day, watching these two vets do their thang.

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