Faith-friendly audiences might clutch their armrests while watching “Jakob’s Wife.”
The horror film isn’t as scary as the genre suggests. They’re just expecting the usual round of Christian bashing found in many movies.
Except it never arrives.
Yes, like the recent shocker “The Unholy,” “Jakob’s Wife” follows a Christian community under the spell of dark spirits. It’s more concerned with marital inequities, avoiding easy targets while slapping a fresh coat of paint on the vampire genre.
Plus, there’s horror legend Barbara Crampton in nearly every scene, and that’s never a bad thing.
Crampton stars as Anne, the dutiful bride of Pastor Jakob Fedder (fellow horror mainstay Larry Fessenden). Together, they’re part of a small, tight-knit community, but lately Anne is feeling burned out by domesticity. It doesn’t help that Jakob takes her for granted, assuming she’ll always be by his side in exactly the way he expects.
He’s not a monster, a creative decision that helps the film immeasurably. He’s emotionally distant, and for Anne that’s almost worse. An old flame’s reappearance stirs plenty within Anne’s soul, but their reunion coincides with a real monster lurking in their midst.
A bloodsucker, to be precise.
Anne survives her encounter with the beast but suddenly hungers for meat. Very rare meat. Will she embrace the vampire lifestyle? Can Pastor Jakob save her in time? Does she even want to be saved?
The film’s feminist trappings intertwine tightly with the horror elements, at least at first. The third act, while gonzo enough to satiate horror fans, goes heavy on the messaging, alas. The black humor connects in a far more consistent fashion. The laughs sprout organically from the screenplay, accentuating the themes in play.
The FX, though, are aggressively cheap and over the top, an element that cuts against the film’s ambitious streak. Yes, it’s a horror movie, but the tone rendered by director Travis Stevens (the sly “Girl on the Third Floor“) gets disrupted by the gross-out moments.
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Crampton and Fessenden keep the story anchored, keenly aware that their on-screen marriage matters more than a few guilty pleasure kill scenes. Jakob realizes the error of some of his ways mid-film, but the story shrewdly holds back on whether it’ll be enough to save their union.
That marriage isn’t a cheap emotional ploy. The bond offers something vital to the story, and the screenplay treats it with the tenderness it deserves. The third act reveals don’t fully mesh with what we’ve watched up until then. Nor does the vampire lifestyle offer as many perks as we’re told.
Crampton commits to the key questions driving “Jakob’s Wife,” and we’re happy to do the same.
HiT or Miss: “Jakob’s Wife” offers a smart spin on the vampire genre, giving horror ace Barbara Crampton one of her best roles in years.