Barbara Crampton shines in this horror about a housewife rediscovering her wilder side.
Synopsis: 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.
Travis Stevens’ directorial debut Girl On The Third Floor had all manner of bodily fluids ooze out of a fixer-upper property in its quest to examine the damaging behaviour of men over the course of decades. His follow-up, Jakob’s Wife is still concerned with uneasy domesticity but a more singular interest in blood-spilling.
Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Jakob (Larry Fessenden) Fedder have been married for a long time and both have lost themselves in a rut. Jakob’s role as a pastor makes him the centre of attention in their small town, where societal neglect arguably claims more victims than creatures of the night ever could, while Anne has increasingly retreated into herself.
There is a pulpy quality to Jakob’s Wife that occasionally threatens to derail it – not always funny enough to be laugh-out-loud funny but enough of a wry smile writ over it that it can’t be played completely straight either. Some sound effects feel misplaced and at times, you can feel it strain against the budget for some of the bigger ideas, particularly around The Master (Bonnie Aarons). A side plot involving Amelia (Nyisha Bell), a young girl trying to cope with her mother’s substance abuse feels underexplored, seemingly little more than a device to show how Jakob’s dedication to the church leaves more than just his wife underwhelmed.
Despite the inevitable sexual rediscovery that Anne experiences following her transformation, the presence of vampires with their fangs front and centre in their mouths as opposed to the more subtle canines removes all the potential sensuality and subtlety from their attacks that other films might lean into. The vampire attacks in Jakob’s Wife are brutal and unpleasant. While one or two gags don’t quite work, there’s something pleasingly ugly and messy about the frenzy of it all, especially as they punctuate the film’s quieter moments.
Refreshingly, Anne’s vampirism is treated more as a rediscovery, rather than a completely new development. So many transformational films focus on younger people, still trying to find their identity. In Anne’s case, she had already built an identity, then lost it in search of and gratitude for the stability she found in Jakob. This might lead to some finding this a little less explosive than a complete overhaul that other transformation films might portray. The supernatural is not the genesis of female sexual desire within the narrative, it just allows it the freedom to surface.
Barbara Crampton is doing great work here, managing to dial up the volume on Anne throughout her changes. Her performance delivers just as much in quiet, sombre looks as it does in the film’s more unhinged moments. Larry Fessenden, too, is excellent at balancing Jakob’s oblivious pomposity in the early sections and his later shift in coming to terms with their dramatic situation. It is something of a shame that the film keeps them separate for much of the runtime as their scenes together shine brightest. However unhappy the marriage of their characters in, the pair are always fun to watch.
Tonally awkward but with excellent central and supporting performances, Jakob’s Wife is a suitably bloody offering that indulges in the more savage elements of vampirism.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Jakob’s Wife is available on Shudder US, Canada, UK and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand from August 19th