Jakob’s Wife tells the story of small-town couple Jakob and Anne Fedder (horror veterans Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton); a local minister and his dutiful wife who have been married close to 30 years. Anne feels that after all the tasks of being a housewife – including the cleaning, cooking, gardening, housekeeping and more cleaning – and the lack of intimacy with her husband, she is stuck in a rut of domestic ennui.
But things start to change when an old boyfriend of Anne’s, Tom Low, enters the picture. When the chance encounter comes to a shocking conclusion, Anne finds herself in another rut that involves feelings of empowerment that she has not felt in a long time; which irks the people around her. With her change in demeanour and the sudden disappearances happening in the neighbourhood, the townspeople are in for a rude awakening. And blood. Lots and lots of blood.
Jakob’s Wife is the sophomore effort from filmmaker co-writer/director Travis Stevens, who made waves with his debut film Girl on the Third Floor; an enjoyably spooky horror flick that mixes tropes of both haunted house antics with erotic thrills which begs the question – What would it look like if Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction was a house? In the case of Jakob’s Wife, the film begs the question – what would a passionless marriage look like if it had fresh blood?
On that note, Jakob’s Wife delivers a gloriously fun time with geysers of blood that will make one’s eyes light up, supernatural spookiness that is enjoyably reverent, effectively dark satire about crippling suburbia and a surprising examination on marriage and the flaws (especially through limitations that women experience) that lends the story some heart.
The first act is unexpectedly understated as it establishes the stakes, characters and settings with subtlety. The strain and distance in the marriage, the constant sighting of rats and the interactions (or lack thereof) between the leads are all laid out effectively enough to let the story breathe so when the complication happens, Stevens hits the throttle on the horror and the fun and rarely lets his foot off the gas.
The use of gallons upon gallons of blood amps up the film in terms of scares and laughs; making the film both hilariously farcical and oddly operatic at times; with bodies having their heads separated from their necks as if they were PEZ dispensers. The supernatural occurrences are amusingly overstated and shows the love Stevens has for the horror genre (including vampirism and the use of rats, which had to be a reference to H.P Lovecraft via his short story The Rats in the Walls). The portrayal of vampires is refreshingly primal; leading to many interpretations of the term “hunger”. It also helps that one of the phobias this writer has is an extreme fear of rats.
But what really makes the film take flight is the characterizations ably conveyed by Crampton and Fessenden. Ann wants some excitement out of the rut she is in as well as wanting to be supportive of Jacob, therefore she is stuck between a rock and a hard place; simmering in her own frustration and anger. But when she undergoes a transformation, her sense of well-being, her autonomy, her appearance, her love of herself thrives tenfold; and Crampton pulls off that transformation with utmost sincerity. That is not to say that she does not have fun, as she evidently does as she discovers her feats of strength by lifting sofas, breaking necks open and opening doors in her relationship with Jakob that have not been touched in a long time.
On the other end, Jakob is seen to be a lout; controlling of basically every circumstance that Ann abides to. When he opens his eyes to the transformation that Ann has gone through, he becomes terrified of her; which leads to a rift in what it means to be married. Fessenden plays the role of Jakob deftly as he does not shy away in making him pathetic but he instils enough sympathy and nuance to the role that we empathise (if not agree) with his points of view.
As for the film’s flaws, the tone shifts from dramatic seriousness to gleefully slapstick horror and dark comedy can be quite abrupt; leading to moments that feel like they are going to be sustained and yet they are dropped in favour of something else. The pacing can be quite haphazard as the focus tends to go back-and-forth with the relationship between the two leads and the mythology of the horror that is wreaking havoc on the town.
But what grounds the film and makes it as dramatically resonant more than expected are the lead characters and Stevens provides more than enough meat for Crampton and Fessenden to chew on; making the film a qualified success. Jakob’s Wife is a fun splatter horror comedy that serves to satiate gorehounds as well as those who are looking for an amusingly sharp look at the confines of marriage. Recommended.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Jakob’s Wife is now showing exclusively on Shudder.