Jakob’s Wife, 2021.
Written and Directed by Travis Stevens.
Starring Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Sarah Lind, Phillip Jack Brooks, Robert Rusler, Mark Kelly, and Jay DeVon Johnson.
Anne, married to a small-town Minister, feels her life has been shrinking over the past 30 years. Encountering “The Master” brings her a new sense of power and an appetite to live bolder. However, the change comes with a heavy body count.
It is truly impressive what can be accomplished without a budget as long as there is sincere and thoughtful writing. One could take Jakob’s Wife as a silly movie about small-town residents turning into vampires with buckets galore of blood (perhaps a bit too excessive and comical here), but it’s more intriguingly about the upending of gender dynamics within a religious family and how the vampiric powers obtained by Anne Fedder (genre veteran Barbara Crampton leaning into every bit of zany material given to her) – the eponymous Jakob’s wife – come to serve as a source of female empowerment.
We don’t know much about what brought Anne and Jakob (another great character actor putting in solid work, Larry Fessenden) together aside from he was there for her during a rough patch 30 years ago that eventually caused them to settle into marriage. What is very clear is that whatever sparked this relationship once had, it’s now gone. Worse, Jakob talks over Anne and doesn’t have much interest in her unless he’s wondering what’s for breakfast. In other words, it’s a marriage functioning of an archaic and outdated belief system that essentially has Anne robbed of her individuality and agency.
That’s also probably one too many words explaining away the nature of this marriage as not even 10 minutes into Jakob’s Wife a young woman named Amelia (Nyisha Bell) is murdered by a mysterious figure while walking home from Jakob’s latest sermon. There also appears to be an infestation of large rats. More pressing, those pesky rodents have gotten inside a construction site that the town is looking to renovate into something more tourist-friendly. Overseeing all that is Tom (Robert Rusler), successful and back in town wondering why Anne allowed her to slip into such an unfulfilling and restrained marriage. Let’s just say the incident in the darkness on-site that changes everything.
Anne develops a whole new attitude, confidence, sexy wardrobe, and starts to behave rather seductively around Jakob. He is unsure what the hell is going on looking towards his equally condescending brother for advice. To be fair, she also doesn’t seem to understand she has transformed into a vampire. That is until the craving for blood develops and a trip to the dentist leaves her face nearly burned off from sensitive lights. Naturally, Jakob is buried in the disappearance of Amelia to notice some of the more violent changes with Anne, but needless to say when he does witness her enhanced strength and revitalization of self-worth he’s not too thrilled about it. It’s not so much that he is controlling, more than he wants to maintain gender dynamic norms within the marriage.
The aforementioned mysterious being is also a cheesy-looking vampire known as The Master (Bonnie Aarons) egging on the women to do more damage with their abilities and empowerment, so the rest of the story becomes a matter of will these people find common ground with equality or continue to let the blood spray everywhere.
As mentioned, there is a genuinely great concept at the front of Jakob’s Wife (and that’s not really a surprise given the film is written and directed by Travis Stevens who once again utilizes direction resulting in the love child of Sam Raimi and Darren Aronofsky), but the intentionally bad dialogue at times and over-the-top gore feels like it’s doing a disservice to the themes. The balancing is not necessarily effective here, but it is ambitious screwball horror craziness. Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden are hysterical, lending a quasi-sitcom approach to the lunacy somewhere between dry humor and the absurd. If the direction from Travis Stevens is shaky, the screen gems are enough to save the movie and perhaps the marriage.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com