Starring: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, and Bonnie Aarons
Screenplay by: Mark Steensland, Kathy Charles, and Travis Stevens
Directed by: Travis Stevens
“Scream Queen” legend Barbara Crampton receives a juicy, long-overdo starring role in Jakob’s Wife.
Equal parts Salem’s Lot and John Cassavetes-esque tragicomedy, Jakob’s Wife is a grimly funny movie with a deceptively simple premise. Crampton plays Anne, a doting but bored housewife to local pastor Jakob (genre staple Larry Fessenden). Day after day, Anne and Jakob meander through the same routine. They have dinners with Jakob’s brother and sister-in-law, Sundays with the congregation, and the weeks in between filled with all sorts of numbing domesticity. Much to Anne’s surprise, an old flame re-enters Anne’s life and the pair encounter a being known only as The Master (Bonnie Aarons doing a tremendous take on Max Shrek and Nosferatu). Soon Anne’s life is turned toward the afterlife while more and more bodies start to pile up across their sleepy town, and her hunger for blood deepens.
Now, on its surface, Jakob’s Wife is presented much like an indie-psychodrama. With a keen eye toward the mundane, director and writer Travis Stevens shoots everything rather plainly. At least, at first, he does. He pushes audiences into a lifestyle and setting dominated by beige and cinder blocks, the world in Jakob’s Wife yearns to be broken free from.
That feeling is made tenfold by the performance of Crampton, who fills the titular role with grace, fire, and vulnerability. As we see more “regular” days for her and Jakob, the film seems completely understanding of Anne’s plight. Better still, it never judges her even as she starts to become a literal monster. A large part of this is thanks to the film’s poignant — but never exploitive — script. One that allows quiet moments room to breathe but also takes the time to set up a few drolly funny laughs along the way as well.
But the film’s overall success should be attributed to its cast, anchored by Crampton, who demands your eyes the entire runtime. While there is plenty of “vampy” moments throughout, Crampton underplays even some of the broader scenes. She breathes Anne a real-life and energy beyond the pulpy delights of seeing Crampton taking a turn as a housewife-turned-vampire queen. Fessenden too plays everything deadly straight, including Jakob’s prudishness and fussiness. Making him the perfect foil for Crampton who just gets even better once the stakes start flying.
And, man, oh, man do they start flying, readers. While the opening moments of this film are played fairly down the middle, Travis and a truly game EFX team go for the absolute grossest gusto a few times. Literally gushing blood into their domesticated, small-town hellscape. Some of the computer-generated effects are, regrettably, kind of dodgy, I will admit. There is a scene toward the beginning in particular that viewers might blanch at. Thankfully, they are very few and the practical stuff makes up for it. I loathe to spoil in this review some of the film’s grander moment. Suffice to say, I think the “gore-hounds” among you will be plenty pleased with this. Even with a few digital missteps and a fairly lower-key opening half-hour, there’s plenty to drool over.
“Festival darlings” like this are sometimes a crapshoot. Either they are not what you expect, or worse still, something not even that functional to start with. Thankfully, Jakob’s Wife stood as a really satisfying and entertaining experience. One that trades well and accurately on both the talents and persona of its leading woman and finally allows her the space, as a lead, to showcase both accordingly. All surrounded by a skillfully made, often screamingly funny horror feature.
Anne might be “just a wife” when this film starts, but I think by the time it ends, Jakob’s Wife will be a new cult classic for its awaiting audience.