MOVIE REVIEW: JAKOB’S WIFE (2021) serves as a great metaphor for change as empowerment


Director Travis Stevens follow up to The Girl on the 3rd Floor serves as both a sendup of religious hypocrisy and uses the transformation into a monster as a way to address change and growth after a long term trauma

Horror films have long used the element of transformation or metamorphosis into a monstrous other as a vehicle for exploring emotional change or growth after trauma. The profound change in attitude characters often find when turned into a vampire in film or television after being bitten serves as an awakening. This awakening often being one from a emotionally or sexually repressed past; the turn giving the individual the key to unleashing this dormant or hidden side to its fullest bloom. A good example of that might be Sadie Frost’s Lucy in 1992’s Bran Stoker’s Dracula, Winona Ryder’s Mina also serves a similar role in that regard; the virginal ingenue who defines herself by her impending marriage to Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker, only for the true love and passionate lust she feels for Dracula to overwhelm her sense and desire.

This is also very true in writer/director Travis Stevens’ latest film Jakob’s Wife, which debuted at SXSW this year and launches on Shudder August 20th. The film stars genre stalwart Larry Fesseden as a small town preacher, the film’s titular Jakob, and classic scream queen Barbara Crampton as the namesake wife, Anne, a woman whose importance lies in subservience to her husband’s role in the community. Their marriage is not a passionate one and she feels stifled and unappreciated in her role as wife and partner. She sees an opportunity to break free of the rut in her life by meeting up with an old flame, played by A Nightmare on Elm Street 2’s Robert Rusler. However, their meeting goes awry when they find themselves prey for ‘The Master’ played by Bonnie Aarons, a female vampire that plays off the iconic look of Barlow from 1979’s Salem’s Lot. Both find themselves victims of the vampire in different ways; Rustler’s old flame is snuffed, while Crampton’s Anne blossoms into a domestic vamp, who finds herself empowered and awakened by her turn to the dark side, as it were.

From here, Fesseden’s Jakob finds himself feeling consternation at his wife’s change; her submissive demeanor and provocative actions challenging their power dynamic, both as a preacher and in their marriage. He’s challenged by the disappearances of members of his flock, which are also victims of the vampiric entity in his town. This is largely the takeaway from Stevens’ script that their marriage is one of imbalance and only after Crampton’s Anne becomes an equal of sorts can they actually have any kind of reasonable
balance in their relationship which the film does explore in its third act. But this film is mostly a vehicle for Crampton, whose descent into full blown vampirism is the main focus, with shots spoofing 1975’s The Stepford Wives to subvert its dark vision of domestic suburban bliss shown to us to see Crampton overcomes it through her dark transformation. Barbara Crampton subverts the role a traditional housewife in this feminist take on the vampire tale with ghoulish glee. Fesseden carries his own with Crampton as her adversary/partner in crime, but make no mistake, this is fully Crampton’s vehicle to shine and if you’re not a fan you may take odds with your enjoyment of the film and it’s focus on her transformation. Some of Stevens’ other regulars like pro wrestling star turned actor Phil “CM Punk” Brooks make appearances but in smaller parts of not much consequence. Bonnie Aaron’s master also doesn’t really feel like an unpainted presence and the homage of her look to Stephen King’s mini series hurts rather than helps her cause in being taken seriously as a master vampire, especially when playing off of Crampton’s on screen charisma.

But overall, Jakob’s Wife does make an interesting entry in the genre of monster as empowerment the same way that a film like Ginger Snaps or The Craft does. It takes a domestic approach and it’s not a coming of age film, but it’s a coming into your own from a place of subservience and lack of agency. For that, it’s worth celebrating and it gives Barbara Crampton a juicy role that’s a lot of fun to play.

Jakob’s Wife (2021)
*** out of 5 stars