Director: Travis Stevens
Notable Cast: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Nyisha Bell, Sarah Lind, Mark Kelly, CM Punk
In my humble and often questionable opinion, most vampire films can be placed into two categories: hoity-toity castle artsy vampire cinema and buried in a dirty grave fun vampire flicks. Not that films can’t be both to some degree, as is the spectrum of film, but those are the two ends for me. Judging by the strong casting, the poster artwork, and the title, the expectations that came with Jakob’s Wife seemed to lean heavily toward hoity-toity. It would fit with the current state of horror trends and, quite frankly, I was sold on that idea. However, this film easily leans towards the latter category, albeit in a smart way. It’s a cinematic mixture of classic elements and modern twists. Not only are fans loving it, but critics seem to share the appreciation of the quirks and strengths of the film’s oddities in its choices. Jakob’s Wife is a stellar example of a team of creatives taking a tone and embracing both the silliness and the intelligence of its messages and delivery.
After the release of The Girl on the Third Floor, Travis Stevens convinced everyone that he could transition from a producer to a director with relative ease. (Looking back, I guess I did not write a review for that film, which is a shame - definitely check it out.) His follow up though showcases a slightly broader sense of commercial sense and it works like gangbusters here. His ability to balance that combination of old school/modern and a strangely effective tongue-in-cheek tone to the serious character work about social roles is damn near pitch perfect. Jakob’s Wife is shockingly humorous at times and the film keeps its footing as it shifts one direction to the next.
It helps when the two leads of the film are so impressively cast. At this point, can we just call it a Crampton Renaissance? Since her ‘revival’ started in the wake of You’re Next, she has become a steward of the horror genre - using her presence, status, and talents to embrace the horror culture that has come to embrace her. She serves as both a producer and anchor in Jakob’s Wife and her chemistry with her co-lead, the always reliable Larry Fessenden, is palpable. The entire cast is game to hit the tonal balance that the film requires and it embodies the heartfelt messages about redefining roles in marriage while never losing that ‘oh shit, stupid vampires make life crazy’ plot. It’s smartly written and expertly performed to bring nuance to the surface.
It should also be addressed that as a vampire film, Jakob’s Wife does something refreshingly old school with its monstrous creatures of the night. Bringing back a bit of that old school mystery and influences from Nosferatu, there is a strange mysticism around the “master” and the various elements. In fact, while trying to not reveal too much, the choice to bring back the plague inspired indicator of rats and design the vampires to have rat-like qualities is refreshingly charming in its silliness. For a lower budget film, the focus on special effects is always a welcome choice, but so much of the designs and fun that is created in delivering a classic with a slightly refreshing angle is worth noting.
For horror fans, particularly those who want a purely entertaining and tonally balanced mixture of old school influences through a modern lens, Jakob’s Wife cannot be recommended enough. Stevens’ brings a lot of intelligence to the direction, the cast is in top performance, and the horror elements are clever in choice. Not only is this a fang-tastic blast to watch, but it’s also smartly written in a way that has layers to tease.