I feel more alive than I have in years.
Barbara Crampton is a Scream Queen and a Horror Legend. Her work stretches from Re-Animator (1985) and Chopping Mall (1986) to You’re Next (2011) and The Lords of Salem (2012), but Jakob’s Wife (2021) ends up being one of the best showcases of her talents that she’s ever had.
Crampton plays the titular wife, Anne, a shy and quiet woman who acquiesces to her bombastic husband, Jakob (Larry Fessenden), who also happens to be a minister at a small town church. It’s easy and she’s used to it. When a brief bout of temptation leads her to an encounter with a vampire, things start to change. Suddenly, she’s more assertive about what she wants to do and when she wants to do it. That’s when Jakob realizes that things are very, very wrong … which is funny, because he has no idea about the aversion to sunlight, bloodlust, or worm-eating.
The most obvious thing about the film, and its biggest selling point, is the chemistry between Crampton and Fessenden. Anne is an immediately sympathetic character, a shy woman who kind of turned inward due to her loud husband, so it’s incredibly enjoyable to see her peel back those layers as she adjusts to an animalistic, open, and ultimately freeing way of life. Fessenden almost has a tougher job. I was so prepped to hate his character, but the film makes Jakob a way more nuanced character than I expected. It’s a testament to the script and the actors to go beyond what could have easily been a “cowed wife finally let’s go” type of film (which I expected and probably would have enjoyed as well) and make it a much more complicated take on relationships. It delves into marriages and relationships in a way that I legitimately did not expect.
Jakob is shown as overbearing, demanding, and boring. As the movie advances, however, we get a sense of his devotion to his wife and his willingness to change or compromise if less extreme circumstances had come to light earlier. Crampton and Fessenden—who is himself a horror veteran from films like Session 9 (1999), The Last Winter (2006), Stake Land (2010), and even horror video games like Until Dawn—play really well off of each other, and the fact that their relationship seems so lived-in keeps it from being incredibly one-sided. I was surprised that we actually spend a lot of time with Jakob, as well as Anne, so it was nice that he developed so much that I didn’t hate him.
Jakob’s Wife has some pretty fantastic effects, with the gore especially standing out to me. There’s a surprise decapitation that was so impressive with how casual and unexpected it seemed. I also liked whenever “The Master” vampire appeared during the first half of the film. The way The Master was shot was very old-school, mostly kept in the shadows and leaning on sound design and silhouette to sell the scare. It worked on me. There’s also a shot that, upon reflection, seemed like a mannequin in the shadows with two red lights for eyes (even though it was almost certainly some CG enhanced thing) that felt so quick and tactical that it really worked on me, as well. Also, the “twist” (if you’d call it that) regarding The Master was a cool surprise. The body count in the movie isn’t huge, but they make every single one count.
There is a part of the film that sags for me, which is disappointing for a nice, lean 98 minutes. It is fun when Anne deals with being a vampire before Jakob finds out, but these elements never really escalated beyond stuff we’ve seen before. She is more assertive, she craves blood, she covers up doing something bad. It absolutely felt like stuff I’ve seen before. Luckily, once Jakob finds out about her condition, the storyline veers into places I didn’t expect while also delving into a mature exploration of their relationship.
Jakob’s Wife is funny and gory while also being a surprisingly insightful look into a marriage. I don’t think that every relationship drama should necessarily have the conflict of a vampire married to a minister … but it probably couldn’t hurt. Especially if you cast the queen, Barbara Crampton, as the lead.