Jakob’s Wife is now streaming on Shudder as of August 19.
As far as my favorite genre to come from an American filmmaker this year, my current go to is Travis Stevens’ genderswap of the classic metamorphosis metaphor, Jakob’s Wife. In this case it’s the rare film I not only sought out on my own, but purchased in a brick and mortar store, after hitting three Best Buys trying to score a copy. The film stars Barbara Crampton, who’s become a trusted name in horror for me, since her choice in projects definitely lead me to believe her criteria for roles are more script, rather than paycheck based. This tends to plague some of these horror “names” whose careers have meandered from interesting and thought provoking films to forgettable things they could knock out in a day.
Jakob’s Wife is the story of Anne (Barbara Crampton), the wife of a pastor in a small town, who is in the midst of a mid-life slump. She’s feeling stuck, invisible and in a relationship where she is expected to be the good, submissive wife. When she orchestrates a meeting with an old flame to consult on renovating an old mill, just when Anne is going to find a physical release, she instead finds a supernatural one, when she is bitten by a vampire who was using the mill as a hideout. It’s here the film takes a story we’ve seen countless times where the metaphor of transformation into a vampire is used to help tackle a transition of age, but by simply flipping the gender, is able to deliver refreshingly different metaphor for menopause. The best comparison would be the same way Ginger Snaps used lycanthropy as as metaphor for womanhood.
The film as a whole firmly rests on the able shoulders of star and producer Barbara Crampton who imbues her performance with much more nuance than I expected, while sometimes still dipping her toes into camp here and there. There’s a melancholy to Anne that Crampton traverses along with capturing these brief moments of gleeful wonder as her body goes through this transformation, with these new cravings and powers. It’s a scenario that I as a horror fan have seen thousands of times through the male gaze and one that has a new poignancy here. While the film has this weight, it still delivers the laughs and plenty of the red stuff. For its vampire lore thankfully the film chooses to go more Nosferatu than Dracula to really complete its shake up its take. It’s something Travis Stevens really relishes in as he slowly reveals the creature throughout the film. What the film does with that final reveal took an already intriguing story and elevated it with yet another layer of subtlety.
It’s hard to sing Crampton’s praises without acknowledging her co-stars who do their best to keep up, while also giving the material the respect it deserves. Larry Fessenden manages to somehow pull of a intriguingly simpatico take on the husband that could have easily been vilified to comedic effect, given the Vampires’ relationship with the church. The script here by Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, and Travis Stevens also gets the balance just right of genre versus subtext, as to not get lost in its metaphorical underpinning while still delivering a kick ass vampire movie. But it’s because of that commentary that I think the film has a much broader appeal and longer life ahead of it, since it has this completely new component that I think speaks to a much different audience than these films tend to.
Jakob’s Wife manages the unthinkable by putting a fresh new spin on the century old myth. This is thanks not only to Travis Stevens, but Crampton who delivers an impressive turn that will hopefully lead to similar vehicles for the actor. It’s a simple change that opened the door here wide open for the pair who thoroughly explored it in ways that really made you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. I simply loved Jakob’s Wife; it deals out the horror while also dealing out a very human story through the guise of a super gory vampire film, paired with a wicked sense of humor. Crampton is a joy to watch and proves again that she’s a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre. The film is new on Shudder this week and I can’t recommend it enough if any of this has piqued your curiosity.