Immediately after I finished watching Jakob’s Wife, I sat there in a state of confusion, perplexed by the madness of what I just witnessed. A jumbled mess of incohesive thoughts and emotions floated around in my mind as I tried to mentally unravel everything. Well, here we are, and it is time to try my hand at a review for this bonkers B-movie gore fest brimming with bloodlust and vampires.
Directed by Travis Stevens, with a script co-written by Stevens, Kathy Charles, and Mark Steensland, Jakob’s Wife feels like the kind of movie that a young Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, or Edgar Wright would have picked off the shelf at a video store on a Friday night in their formative creative years as students of film. As a full package, they might have found the feature to be a mixed bag. However, certain aspects of the over-the-top violence, bizarre tonal shifts, and unrestrained independent filmmaking of flicks like Jakob’s Wife might have influenced them on a personal level. The roots of indie horror and cheesy and pulpy midnight movies are undeniable in the respective filmographies of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Wright and this bloodsucking slice of cinema from Travis Stevens fits that description perfectly.
The title of the film itself is a commentary on the sexism ingrained in some facets of American culture, specifically, the dogmatic interpretation of supposed principles of Christianity by many of its practitioners. Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) is the stereotypical Southern Baptist minister who has a very narrow viewpoint on gender roles and femininity for his wife, Anne (Barbara Crampton). However, the wife of Jakob soon becomes her own woman and is blessed with power and independence while she is simultaneously cursed with transforming into a vampire. Her freedom comes at the price of becoming a “monster.” Or, at least that is one of the potential translations of the messaging, which is neither subtle nor completely coherent.
Jakob’s Wife works when it leans into exactly what it is supposed to be — a goofy, wacky array of priests, vampires, statements on womanhood, and Barbara Crampton, whose charisma and screen presence in the titular role is dazzling. Unfortunately, when there are attempts to develop character and narrative, it’s easy to lose interest. It all feels half-baked and superficial. I am not entirely sure if this characterization was meant to be taken seriously in the first place, or if it was all part of the schtick. The script feels self-aware and ironic at certain points, but in other instances, the intentions appear honest and authentic, to its detriment. I had my fair share of laughs and chuckles, even in moments when this was likely not the desired reaction from the audience. Outside of Crampton, the performances are dull and uninspired. Additionally, the first half hour of the film is deliberately paced as a slow burn, a fire that might have benefited from some accelerant. By the time I got to the creative soul of the movie, my attention and focus had already drifted multiple times.
Another phrase I wrote in my notes, that I feel is necessary to include here for the sake of candidness: “I was entertained whenever the crazy vampire shit was going down, but I couldn’t care less about the movie in the parts when somebody wasn’t having their blood drained or being torn from limb-to-limb.”
This comment probably tells you just as much about me as a viewer as it does about the movie itself, so take that as you will.
Obviously, kudos are owed to the artists behind the makeup and special effects. The audacity of the gruesomeness of the blood spatter is (pun very much intended) a gutsy move. It is disgusting, sure, but impressive and effective in its sheer shock value. This is exactly the kind of thing that a lot of people are looking for in a midnight movie, and Jakob’s Wife undoubtedly delivers on that front.
This film lives and dies by everything that makes it silly, sleazy, and grotesque. Mileage will vary from viewer to viewer, but there is definitely an audience out there for Jakob’s Wife. I have a feeling that Travis Stevens’s directorial vision will please crowds looking for camp, vampires, and compelling social commentary that is sure to provoke as well as bewilder.
Screening during the 2021 SXSW Film Festival beginning March 17th, 2021.
In select theaters, on VOD, and digital April 16th, 2021.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.