Jakob's Wife

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Jakob's Wife
"Stevens uses the Nosferatu framework to tell a story about a marriage." | Photo: Shudder

Vampires seem to be enjoying a bit of a revival lately. Now that the endless teen vampire romances spawned by Twilight have finally burned out, it’s once again possible to explore them in different ways, with films like Boy #5 finding fresh contexts in which to situate old myths. One film that’s sticking with an older formula is this little gem from Travis Stevens, which revisits the trope of a woman whose personality transforms under the influence of a pointy-toothed master – only rather than a virginal teenager, this is a housewife in her sixties, and she has no intention of going back.

The title, if you know your Bible, recalls a couple of women who relentlessly gave of themselves to support their man, enduring no end of suffering in the process. In this case, Jakob is a minister, charged with looking after the people of a small American town and very comfortable with the authority it gives him. He’s played by Larry Fessenden, a master at roles like this, who gives him humanity, warmth and wit where he could easily have been unlikeable – but that doesn’t mean he’s the world’s most attentive husband. Anne (Barbara Crampton), who, according to an old flame, was full of ambition in her youth, is a timid church mouse beside him, wearing minimal make-up and dresses that look like wallpaper, hiding her light to let his shine the brighter.

Everything changes when Anne meets the Master (Bonnie Aarons) – black-cloaked, pointy eared and possessed of an inscrutable agenda. The master has an eye for other women in town but seems to see something special in Anne. When she puts on crimson lipstick, gets a new wardrobe and starts asserting herself, we see it too, and Crampton is every bit as dynamic now as she was in her twenties. Jakob doesn’t know what he’s seeing, but he’s sure it’s something to do with sin – and that’s before he discovers that she’s craving human blood.

Stevens uses the Nosferatu framework to tell a story about a marriage, about two people who have taken their lives for granted and are forced to reckon with one another anew when that life changes. Perhaps their relationship is doomed or perhaps they’ll rediscover their original passion. Perhaps they’ll learn to love each other in a new way or perhaps one or both of them will end up dead. There’s room for lots of contradictory emotions. With great chemistry between the leads, the film uses fantasy to tease out something which feels honest and real.

This is a film with some abrupt tonal shifts, but none especially more so than those naturally precipitated by waking up in middle age and wondering what you’ve been doing with your life. Some viewers have complained that it lurches from comedy to horror halfway through, but if you’re paying attention, the comedy is there from the start. Those boxes of neatly powdered rats, resembling the ones once painted by Werner Herzog, are a clue, and no, you’re not meant to take that sweeping black cape seriously. Don’t let David Matthews’ gorgeous cinematography lull you into thinking that everything here is sincere.

Both leads get to use their abilities to the full in this rich, indulgent piece of work, and they’re a delight to watch. The vampire film has grown up, so set aside the garlic and enjoy.

Reviewed on: 04 Sep 2021
Share this with others on...
Jakob's Wife packshot
The disappearance of a young woman threatens to change the beige and banal lives of Anne Fedder and her pastor husband Jakob Fedder forever.

Director: Travis Stevens

Writer: Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland

Starring: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Mark Kelly, Sarah Lind, Robert Rusler, Nyisha Bell, Phil Brooks

Year: 2021

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

SXSW 2021

Search database:


If you like this, try:

Climate Of The Hunter