SXSW 2021: JAKOB’S WIFE Explores Gender Dynamics and Vampirism… In a Fun Way

Horror icon Barbara Crampton absolutely dominates

Have you settled down? Or have you just settled?

Barbara Crampton’s Anne Fedder, also known as Pastor Jakob’s wife, finds herself very much asking questions such as these in the current phase of her life. We come to understand that perhaps Anne had a bit of a wild side in her youth, and dreamt of a bigger future for herself. But when hard times hit, and Jakob offered comfort and care, Anne chose to become Jakob’s wife. She stands by quietly playing the perfect preacher’s wife, hearing Jacob’s sermons on love and righteousness and faithfulness and fulfillment. It’s not a loveless marriage by any stretch, but they’re older now, have no kids, and when a business opportunity arises with Anne’s high school sweetheart, she finds herself interested in exploring what might have been. That’s when a vampire attacks.

Writers Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, and co-writer/director Travis Stevens have a little something different in mind with Jakob’s Wife, and their fresh approach is truly welcome. Religion, good versus evil, seduction and longing for something more… these kinds of ideas are frequently tapped through the vampire genre. Jakob’s Wife is interested in exploring a human conflict even more ancient than vampirism: man vs woman. It’s also hell bent on having a GREAT time while delving into these issues.

Feeling modeled perhaps after the Sam Raimi “spookablast” template, Jakob’s Wife is loaded with blood and gore (complete with many satisfyingly practical elements), comedy, and energy. Someone just looking for a good time will find it here as Crampton brings as much broad comedy and gruesome murders as she does subtlety and nuance. Her sparring partner is none other than horror icon Larry Fessenden (here playing the straight man in a humorously against type buttoned down and infuriating performance) as Jakob. It’s more or less horror royalty being handed delicious roles to sink their teeth into, with a smart script behind them allowing them to dive into issues of a certain age which rarely get explored in a horror genre that more often offers up teens for the slaughter.

Jakob’s Wife is as much a marriage movie as it is a vampire movie. And even at a baser level it simply gets at the elemental drive to connect versus the innate differences which repel us from one another. It’s almost funny to say this, but Anne and Jakob’s marriage is far from the worst I’ve seen on screen, even as they spend much of the film mired in human viscera together. Jakob appears to be genuine in his buttoned down expression of faith and while emotionally distant and having unrealistic expectations for Anne… he does appear to love her. Anne feels somewhat oppressed by the strictures that have formed in their relationship over time, but she also appears to truly love Jakob even as she finds her voice. As deeper and grosser vampirism tropes expose our hero couple to unspeakable horror, the most interesting aspect of Jakob’s Wife is how those genre elements build the character and relationship of our leads. In that way the film almost continues to get better and better so that as the stakes escalate, our investment in our leads does too.

Perhaps the greatest testament of all to a far out high concept supernatural horror film’s success is when, despite the fangs and splatter and freshly sprouting teeth, you find yourself reflecting on your own life. Jakob’s Wife finds that balance. No gore hound on earth would ever complain that this film doesn’t contain enough splatter to satisfy. But beyond that men and women alike might find something to chew on in terms of how they relate to their chosen partners, what they’re willing to trade off in sacrifice to a shared love, and what they might be willing to kill for to protect.

And I’m Out.

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