Synopsis: After a chance encounter with “The Master,” the wife of a small-town minister discovers a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than before…even as the body count around her grows.
Stars: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Sarah Lind, Phillip Jack Brooks, Robert Rusler, Mark Kelly
Director: Travis Stevens
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Growing up, movie length was a big deal to me for some reason. I think it was because I enjoyed going to the movies (and film in general, let’s be real) so much that the longer the movies were, the more time I could be lost in that experience. When a movie I was waiting forever for, like Batman Returns, clocked in over two hours, I rejoiced. If the umpteenth horror sequel in a long running franchise along the lines of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later only made it to 86 minutes (with credits) it filled me with honest to goodness grief. Eventually, I started to realize that 86 minutes might equal less character development in favor of pure audience pleasing thrills and over two hours could mean an overstuffed narrative that was unnecessary to the overall plot. It all depended on the movie.
Now, reviewing movies as much as I do, you better believe I pay attention to time because it’s more precious than ever when you have multiple films to watch. Did that Australian revenge drama I watched a month ago really need to be two and a half hours? Could a documentary about the ‘90s been a bit longer? Mostly, I fall on the side of everything needing some trimming; I like a well-paced film but not one that breathlessly needs to finish the race at lighting speed. Horror films are typically the trickiest to get the timing right and lately I’ve noticed a trend away from the shorter, rock ‘em, sock ‘em thrills in favor of the more auteur-driven pieces, handsomely made efforts that milk all they can out of extra time that winds up counteracting their good intentions.
Lonely Anne (Barbara Crampton, You’re Next) dreamed of traveling the world but instead has spent her formidable years as the wife of a minister in a tiny town on the outskirts of Nowheresville. Her stoic husband (Larry Fessenden, The Dead Don’t Die) is a fuddy-duddy bore that appears to notice the unhappiness present in his congregants more than in her. You understand why she jumps at the chance to meet up with a former flame (Robert Rusler, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street) who even in his current middle-aged state reminds her of the chances she didn’t take. It turns out to be too little too late for both, because they wind up touring an abandoned warehouse where things heat up but blood runs cold as they come across the temporary resting spot of a new monster in town.
That’s not the end of Anne’s story however, because she emerges from the warehouse a changed woman. She’s stronger and more confident, able to speak up when once before she was less inclined to say what she wanted. More importantly, she finds a nice big cup of blood makes all of her new senses amplified tenfold…the fresher, the better. Her husband doesn’t understand what’s happening to his newly sexualized wife but gets an idea quickly after a run-in with a missing parishioner that also had a nighttime meet-up with The Master (Bonnie Aarons, The Nun), a Nosferatu-ish rat-like beast that likes to whisper names and rip open necks that explode with blood for feasting. With Anne transitioning into a ghastly beast and Jakob waking up and realizing her value, it’s time to exterminate The Master once and for all.
Nothing would have made me happier than to report that Jakob’s Wife is worthy of your time and, more importantly, of a horror icon like Barbara Crampton’s. Sadly, it’s a gore snore that appears to have spent more time and energy on devising ways to get blood the color and consistency of Hawaiian Punch to gush like a geyser out of necks than it did on any other production value. Aarons make-up as The Master is ghoulish to be sure but it also feels like vampire-rodent 101. As an actress, Aarons is quite good at selling these freaky creations but even she can’t get this fiend to frighten.
If Crampton had been afforded more of the true spotlight with interesting moments we haven’t seen before, the film may have cut some new territory as well. Instead, the revitalized Anne trades her gray sweats and mousy hair for the vamp tramp look which is about as cliché as you can get. Crampton didn’t get to her legendary status in horror for her acting, let’s be honest, but she brings a certain aura of sophistication to her roles. Even she looks uncomfortably out of sorts for the majority of the film, a rare occurrence. It’s likely because Anne may change outwardly but screenwriters Kathy Charles, & Mark Steensland (who I discovered was a production intern on 1987’s Mannequin…a trivia fact I had to include) haven’t done much to show the true changes she feels within…and that can’t be left to Crampton to do on her own. In a similar vein (heh heh) Fessenden has a certain genre following that I don’t quite understand, and he doesn’t fit this material in the least. Dead or undead, Anne needs to pack it in and leave Jakob in the dust and we don’t need to wait 90 minutes to understand this. As for the rest of the supporting cast, let’s leave them with their anonymity as they deserve.
What a curiously bad film like Jakob’s Wife serves to remind us of is that no matter what, horror will live on in interesting forms. I just don’t think it needed to be a feature film that’s quite so long. At over 90 minutes, it doesn’t have the plot (or, frankly, the budget) to make its case and that becomes brutally clear with each passing frame. Instead, I wish a director like Travis Stevens, who has begun to make a name for himself in horror with a buzzy calling card flick like Girl on the Third Floor, would gather his contemporaries and get back to the anthology days of the fight film. A number of genre directors right now have interesting ideas, can attract decent names, know how to stretch a buck, but often feel the need to make everything feature length. I’d be willing to bet a nickel or two that if Stevens, who also co-wrote, presented Jakob’s Wife as a thirty-minute chapter in a longer anthology the reaction to the film would be far different. In its current state, it doesn’t do anyone, apart from the special effects folk, any favors.
Indie horror is where the creative juices can flow and that’s why Jakob’s Wife should have found some more skilled ways to subvert the vampire genre considering its limitations. Instead, it feels like the filmmakers embraced these shortcomings too much and tossed their money behind the wrong horse. We’ve seen excessive blood flow and gore before…what we really want are the stories and characters to back-it all up. Without that, it’s all rat droppings.
Available in Select Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on April 16th