Vampirism as a form of liberation is not a new concept for the vampire sub genre, but in the right hands, it can be something special. Jakob’s Wife, directed by Travis Stevens, is one such example. The film follows Anne (Barbara Crampton, who also produces), a quiet and reserved housewife who comes out of her shell after being attacked by a vampire. Crampton is joined by fellow genre legends Larry Fessenden and Bonnie Aarons in what is essentially a marriage drama with a hearty helping of bloody neck geysers.
From the ominous opening to the darkly comedic final shot, Jakob’s Wife succeeds in keeping viewers engaged in the marital relations of Jakob (Fessenden) and Anne. Each twist and turn in the narrative deepens the understanding of these two characters, revealing two flawed people in a flawed relationship. Jakob isn’t abusive or outright terrible to Anne, but he speaks over her and takes her for granted. Anne is clearly unhappy, but afraid to tell Jakob her true feelings. That is, until a vampire attacks her at the old mill outside of town.
“That’s odd. You’ve got new teeth coming in.”
Jakob’s Wife is, above all things, a showcase for Crampton to unleash every bit of raw talent she has. It’s fascinating to watch Anne transform from meek and mild church mouse to a liberated and empowered vampire. This is by far the best that Crampton has ever been, a triumph considering the wide array of genre films she’s graced over the years. Her blood-infused glow up is something to behold. A sequence in which Anne drinks butcher’s blood from a wine glass and rearranges her living room is genuinely one of the best cinematic moments this year—all because of Crampton’s magnetic performance.
Opposite of Crampton, Fessenden also puts in one of his best performances. He is careful not to stereotype Jakob, giving him depth and sympathy even while the character makes misguided mistakes. Fessenden really sells the inner turmoil of Jakob as he attempts to come to grips with what his wife has become. Anne’s new look and attitude catches him off guard, but that’s nothing compared to when he realizes the true nature of Anne’s makeover.
From that moment on, the film dials back the ominous tone and leans into a wickedly dark horror comedy about two people trying to make a marriage work. Plenty of blood is spilt in glorious B-movie fashion, with necks being cracked open like pressurized cans of cherry cola. There are some great moments of practical gore, including a scene in a dentist’s office that had this reviewer squirming in his seat. And while there are plenty of gross out moments, they are used sparsely enough to have real impact.
It’s also worth noting that Bonnie Aarons makes very good use of what little screen time she has. The Master, as she is aptly called in the film, remains hidden by quick cuts or shadows for the majority of the film, until the wonderfully over the top third act. Aarons’ delivery of female empowerment speeches while slathered under heavy, Nosferatu-inspired makeup offer further proof that she’s one of the best “monster” performers currently working in the business.
“Drinking blood isn’t exactly a sustainable lifestyle.”
Perhaps the most unique thing that Jakob’s Wife has going for it is that the film centers around older people, and allows them to be old. A big studio version of this movie would cast a 20-something woman as Anne, whereas Stevens allows his subjects to be older. Because of this, Anne and Jakob have a deep history, further aided by the fact that Crampton and Fessenden have previously collaborated together. It feels vital to the story being told, and gives it an added dramatic heft.
Furthermore, there’s never an easy fix for Anne and Jakob’s marital problems. Every time they make progress, there’s always a setback that shows they still have work to do. Sometimes, it’s funny. Sometimes, it’s not. But it’s always compelling. Stevens toes the line, never giving the duo an easy way out. Marriage is hard work, and Jakob’s Wife commits to that idea, somehow grounding a film that has some wildly over the top elements.
The film’s use of lighting also stands out. While most horror flicks are shrouded in darkness, Stevens finds a good balance. There are enough negative spaces to add tension when needed, but everything the viewer needs to see is in full view. It also features a tremendous score and a couple of tasteful needle drops that help keep the tricky tonal balance. At times, Jakob’s Wife is laugh-out-loud funny; at others, it’s intense and creepy. Sometimes, it’s both of those things at once.
Overall, the film takes some familiar themes and does something fresh with them. The vampires in this flick are fearsome creatures, and Stevens adds some inventive touches to their abilities. I can’t imagine that genre fans won’t sink their teeth into this film, and I hope that it finds a larger audience now that it’s on Shudder. This is undoubtedly Barbara Crampton’s best work to date; I’m so glad she continues to bless the horror community with her talents. Jakob’s Wife is not only one of the best horror films of the year, it’s one of the best films of the year, period.
Overall Score 4.5/5
The Shameless Plugs
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