Even though he’s been a prominent fixture in the realm of horror cinema for well over a decade now, Travis Stevens’ directorial debut only came about in 2019 with the Girl on the Third Floor, a story about the dangers of toxic masculinity. For his follow-up feature, Stevens is taking on the mundanity of marriage and small-town America in Jakob’s Wife, which features Barbara Crampton as the significant other of a minister (played by Larry Fessenden) who has watched her identity slip away over the decades, and she embarks on a journey to not only reclaim her life, but celebrate the power she begins to wield in this new phase of her life as well.
Stevens explained how his journey of taking on Jakob’s Wife as his second feature film project all began with the film’s star, and his good friend, Barbara Crampton. “Well, it all starts with Barbara. Mark's script had won the Shriekfest screenplay award five years ago or so, and the festival director and Mark thought it would be a perfect vehicle for Barbara. She read it back then and was like, ‘Oh my gosh. Yes, I want to do this.’ Then, she spent several years working with different writers, and eventually worked with Kathy Charles and got a draft together that they felt was reflective of the movie they wanted to make. That’s when they started going out to directors.”
“I was working on the release of Girl on the Third Floor when Barbara reached out and was like, ‘Hey, I've got this screenplay that is really important to me, would you consider reading it?’ And as a friend, the answer was, ‘Yes, of course.’ But immediately, while I was reading the script, it was so clear to me why this was the perfect movie for Barbara to do at this point in her career.
I was like, ‘I need to do this.’ It was clear that there was a correlation between what that character, Anne Fedder, goes through over the course of the movie and what Barbara had gone through in her own life, both as a wife and as an actor. She was now trying to have a more assertive role in her own storytelling choices by being a producer. And I was like, ‘This would be awesome to be a part of.’"
“So I feel very lucky that they even thought of me. And from the initial conversation I had with Barbara and now the producer, Bob Portal, they understood what I wanted to do with the script, and the vision I had for the movie, and it was theirs as well,” Stevens added.
Before heading into production on Jakob’s Wife, Stevens wanted to infuse this story with some extra genre-centric flourishes that helped heighten and build upon the fantastic work that both Steensland and Charles had already done on the film’s script.
“It was clear what the movie could be from the script I had been given,” explained Stevens. “I think what I brought to it was an outside perspective on how to recalibrate the script to really focus on what was important from a character standpoint, as well as this thought I had that was, ‘Hey, we need to bring some cool new shit that hasn't been seen in this subgenre before to it.’ It wasn’t a major renovation, I'll say. The house was already built; we just renovated it, to open it up a little bit more.”
When it came time to begin shooting Jakob’s Wife, Travis knew that the ideal backdrop for this story of a woman finding her power and coming into her own would be small-town America, which is why Canton, Mississippi made for the perfect locale for Stevens and his team to utilize throughout production.
“One thing I realized was that if this is going to be a story about a character who realizes their life has gotten dull and boring and wants to reclaim their voice, we need to set the story in a town that feels dull and boring. And if we're going to set the story there, and that's where it begins, then this Gothic fantasy element has to come in and change everything, where that environment then gets exaggerated in response. It becomes vibrant and wild in turn.”
“To me, the way you implement that is by looking for locations that will be interesting places to serve as a backdrop for that Gothic element and just trying to find ways to push those two really, really different elements up against each other in interesting ways. We had a lot of fun with that, where we were always trying to think of these unusual ideas. So, trying to combine those two things that are in opposition of each other, and looking for ways to do it, was a fun part of this process for me creatively,” Stevens added.
Directed by Travis Stevens, Jakob’s Wife is celebrating its world premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival on Wednesday, March 17th at 8:00pm CT. To find out more information on its SXSW screening, click HERE.
Jakob’s Wife will also be released in theaters and via On Demand on Friday, April 16th, courtesy of RLJE Films (it will also be making its way to Shudder later in 2021).
Check back right HERE on Daily Dead for all of our coverage of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival!
[Photo Credits: Above photo of Barbara Crampton courtesy of Amp Films International. Above photo of Travis Stevens courtesy of Ava Jazlyn.]