The potential horrors of married life are on full display before first blood is even drawn in Travis Stevens’ ever so slightly fresh bite at the vampire genre, Jakob’s Wife. Familiar faces of scare-fests, Barbara Crampton and Bob Portal play Anne and pastor Jakob Fedder; pillars of the community but with a marriage that isn’t at its best, and with Anne too timid to say anything about it. That is until temptation comes knocking this church mouse’s door, changing her life by ending it, and swiftly bringing her back from the brink, albeit a bit toothier.
Falling victim to an ancient evil that has awoken in the town, Anne transforms from constantly interrupted housewife to powerful undead temptress. Such new perks include her having a hankering for the red stuff and giving into a new thirst for a totally different lifestyle. Very soon, this newly acquainted member of the undead is getting her husband in on the action as the body count rises, and the terror that led Anne down this dark path returns to finish what it started.
The gradual transformation into a vampire has always been a far more compelling lane to take than the basic approaching evil bent on biting every one. Here Crampton’s trip to the dark side not only grips thanks to her performance, but the varying fresh elements added into it that Anne is forced to deal with. Her weekly trip to the supermarket ending with unusual purchases from the butchers, and a teeth whitening effort from the dentist leaving her a little grilled, both give a fresh stab at a genre that could’ve so easily led Jakob’s Wife to being just another vampire flick. For those hoping to see splashes of claret and carnage, there’s some great creative kills at work that show Stevens can really get things gross when he wants to.
As new as this dark tale is trying to be though, there’s clear respect for what came before, with Jakob’s Wife feeling like it’s pulling from the pages of Salem’s Lot and even Hellraiser as the horror lurking behind closed doors brings a couple together again. Add in an ear-prickling synth-like score that sounds cut from Carpenter, and it’s clear this little terror is raising a glass of O negative to the greats. With this, it certainly earns respect by showing some of its own, the only issue is that even with a refreshing taste on vampire stories and paying tribute to the old ones, both Jakob and Jakob’s Wife are where the film feels nowhere near as polished.
For an onscreen pair, Crampton and Portal feel incredibly mismatched throughout. The two rarely gel for the majority of the film, which, as a couple on the rocks, is forgivable to a point, but struggling to conjure even a spark throws some other major elements of the film off balance. As Anne and Jakob wade deeper into this unholy bloody mess, there are moments of dark humour that just don’t land with both failing to bounce off one another when it’s absolutely crucial. Ultimately, they feel incredibly out of place when they’re slotted around some impressively grim scenes, that in turn, fail to chill the bones like they have the potential to.
It all comes down to the fact that the film sticks with the pair, rather than allowing Anne space to breath and go solo. Sure it may be key to the story Stevens is trying to tell, but it’s a hindrance to the central performance that is at its best when Anne is dealing with her not-quite-living nightmare, personally. Seeing her slip into her new world so easily and have fun doing so is where the film thrives and should’ve got more attention. Sometimes seeing blood get spilled is even more fun thanks to the person spilling it, and for that Crampton deserves all the praise. Heck, even a Thelma & Louise/Near Dark hybrid seeing her paired with her bitey attacker, The Master (The Nun’s Bonnie Aarons looking very Barlow-esque) was waiting in the wings, but is quite literally clipped to head in a disappointing direction. In the end, while there’s blood by the bag load, and some impressive takes on vampire lore, the irony is that even though Jakob’s Wife has her moments, she gets nowhere near enough as she deserves.
RLJE Films and Shudder will release the horror film JAKOB’S WIFE in Theatres, On Demand and Digital on April 16, 2021.