Sunday, April 25, 2021

Jakob’s Wife – review

Director: Travis Stevens

Release date: 2021

Contains spoilers

When I first noticed Jakob’s Wife, and watched the trailer I found myself immediately excited. The trailer looked great and it starred Larry Fessenden whose output both as actor and director I love. Of course, it is often a mistake getting excited for a film, you raise those expectations past a point that the film can reach and end up more disappointed than you would have been going in cold.

I’m happy to report, not this time. If anything this rose above those expectations and was such great fun – a character study, a social commentary, a black comedy with the added joy of some very gory moments. Fessenden was fantastic but his performance was eclipsed, in some respects, but also complemented by the stellar performance by the star of the film Barbara Crampton (God of Vampires, Replace & the Sisterhood).

Jakob preaches

It starts with a church, we hear a squeaking and see two rats outside in the carpark. Inside Jakob (Larry Fessenden), who is the pastor, gives a sermon about how husbands should love their wives but his own wife, Anne (Barbara Crampton), looks less than happy. As people leave, they speak to Jakob, including a young woman, Amelia (Nyisha Bell). She is asked why she is there on her own, she admits her mother has started drinking again and Jakob offers to go to their home.

Nyisha Bell as Amelia

The camera follows Amelia on her long trek home. She gets to a sparsely populated area, ironically where she lives, when she hears a noise. Scared she looks around and then visibly jumps when she notices the rats at her feet. She heads to home but a whisper in the dark says her name. She stops, looks around as something descends slowly behind her… The next day the local sheriff, Mike (Jay DeVon Johnson), comes to see Jakob and Anne – Amelia is missing, but, of course, they cannot shed light on her disappearance.

not domestic bliss

Later that day Jakob’s brother, Bob (Mark Kelly, Angel), and his wife, Carol (Sarah Lind, Blade the Series), have dinner with Jakob and Anne. The conversation gravitates to the missing girl – after some stereotyped guessing of what may have happened, the viewpoints steeped in patriarchy. Anne, in response, states that good people just don’t leave their families. Once their guests have left, we see Jakob cleaning his teeth and then snoring in bed and rolling into her – Anne, for her part, seems aggravated by her husband. In the morning she mentions that a Mill-renovation proposal she was involved in has been accepted and they have a locally born designer coming to help – Tom Lowe (Robert Rusler, Vamp). Jakob makes a point in saying that Tom is her old flame.

in the mill

Anne meets Tom and they have a drink and reminisce and we hear aspects of Anne coming through that perhaps have been buried, her dreams and adventurousness. Tom admits he would not have guessed her marrying Jakob but she says that her mother died, just after Tom left the area, and Jakob, and the church, were there for her. They go out to the mill, clearly implied to have been the place of youthful trysts, and inside he kisses her. She hesitates and then kisses him back but a noise has them descending to the lower level. They find two crates and sit on them, they kiss again but she breaks away – she can’t do it to Jakob.


The crate lid starts moving. They open it and there are a couple of rats. The other crate does the same and Tom opens it revealing a mass of rats that attack him, shredding his flesh. Anne backs away as something swoops down upon her… Jakob is phoning to track Anne down as it is late and she comes in, she is silhouetted on the stairs as she says she is going to bed so he doesn’t see that, under her clutched bag, her blouse is soaked in blood. In the bathroom, in a marvellous moment of acting, she is hysterical, hyperventilating – wounded and devastated we can feel her trauma.

Anne changes

So, we then follow Anne and her changes. We get some standard tropes – the wearing of a scarf to hide the bites, the loss of appetite, the being drawn to myoglobin in meat packaging and asking the butcher for blood (which she drinks and subsequently vomits graphically as animal blood is no good). This comes with increased strength, new teeth coming through (behind her front teeth as these are Nosferatu-styled fangs) and, whilst she does move around in daylight, her mouth is burned by the dentist’s UV teeth whitener. However, the bigger change is in her personality, she gains confidence and feels (as she puts it) alive.

Bonnie Aarons as the Master

Now I don't think it too much of a spoiler to reveal that the Master (Bonnie Aarons) is portrayed as Orlock gender-swapped. In this the vampire represents freedom and the vampirism is emancipation from the patriarchy – be that the Judeo-Christian patriarchy that Jakob represents or the wider forms of patriarchy in the form of authority figures such as the sheriff or familial figures such as Bob. Even Tom objectifies and projects his view of what she is onto her. The changes the vampirism brings shifts the dynamics of her marriage, something that Jakob rails against at first and the film is as much 'can he accept a marriage of equals' as 'can he save his wife'?

the Master attacks

Further lore that is worth noting includes the fact that whilst holding the bible seems to fail Jakob at one point, religious items are efficient – be that holy water, or a communion wafer that is placed onto the soil where a vampire has been buried and causes the ground to smoke. This is as much symbols of the patriarchy impacting the feminine as the standard good vs evil. The Master can control minds, a controlled human’s eyes misting over, and cause them to self-harm. Feeding turns (I say feeding rather than a bite as we see a turn after a throat is cut by nails, the head wrenched aside and the blood drunk as it spurts upwards) and a stake to the heart kills. I have mentioned the rats, which the Master can control, and she can also open up another’s sexuality – as she does when, from a distance, she causes Anne to become lost in sensuality.

Anne's new strength

There are some neat streaks of black comedy running through the film – checking on an elderly parishioner, finding her dead and stealing her body to harvest blood, and the subsequent interaction with a neighbourhood kid, are played for dark laughs. But that side does not overpower the character drama. The film does not shy away from blood either and we get a few very bloody attacks. Larry Fessenden offers simply one of the best performances I have seen him give but the show is stolen, very much, by Barbara Crampton who is magnificent. That having been said their performances also complement each other.

I really did like this one – 9 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

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