While I don’t expect everyone to feel the way that I did about Jakob’s Wife, the film quickly won me over in the quieter moments of its opening scene as we watch on as the lovely Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton) is talked over by her minister husband Jakob (Larry Fessenden) after a Sunday service, and we see her slowly slip away from the scene, almost becoming a quiet observer in that moment. It was during that sequence where I felt immediately bonded to Crampton’s Anne, because years ago in another life, I was her. I found my own identity subtly slipping away in my marriage, and I realized at a certain point that I had to decide just who exactly it was that I wanted to be, and where I wanted my life to be heading towards. But becoming a vampire wasn’t one of my options, so here I am.
Back to Jakob’s Wife, though. The reason I mention that scene is that the film’s opening perfectly sums up the dynamic between Jakob and Anne without having to explicitly lay everything out for us, and the movie’s script from Mark Steensland, Travis Stevens, and Kathy Charles only builds upon those foundational moments from there. It’s evident that in Jakob’s Wife that Anne and her hubby still clearly have a lot of love for each other, but there’s definitely some room for improvement in their marriage after all these years, and a shakeup in their dynamic is very necessary in order for them to move forward and continue to stay together.
But before Jakob and his wife can have their “come to Jesus” moment about their relationship, things are further complicated by the fact that Anne is attacked by “The Master” (Bonnie Aarons), a worldly vampire who wants Anne to embrace her new bloodthirsty identity and leave her old life—including her husband—behind in favor of an existence that allows the minister’s wife to blaze her own trail and finally have the opportunity to live the fully realized life that Anne has been dreaming of.
Even though Jakob’s Wife is a thoughtful examination of just how hard marriage can be, especially when you’ve been with your partner for decades and the shine has worn off, it’s also a darkly comedic vampiric romp that isn’t afraid to get messy and have a little fun with all the bloodsucker tropes that us genre fans enjoy so much. The first half of the film starts off with a lighter and more drama-focused feel to it, but once Anne’s new vampiric tendencies begin to flourish, and Crampton lets her proverbial hair down, that’s really when Jakob’s Wife hits its stride and heads in a decidedly darkly comedic direction that was absolutely delightful to watch as it unfolded.
Based on the title alone, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Crampton and her character are front and center, driving the narrative of Jakob’s Wife, and her performance in the film definitely ranks amongst my three favorite roles we’ve seen from the genre icon’s career thus far. Calling this a singular performance hardly seems fair, though, because in Jakob’s Wife, we get two iterations of Anne: the quietly stewing but dutiful housewife who is yearning for the life she left behind and the burgeoning vampire who turns nearly feral in the presence of blood that also happens to be able to rearrange her furniture without even breaking a sweat (that sequence in particular gave me quite a chuckle). Jakob’s Wife is truly a vehicle to showcase Crampton’s diverse talents, proving she is skilled at hitting the dramatic beats of her role as Anne, but also she’s wickedly funny at times here as well, especially when she’s trying to navigate her new life as a creature of the night.
And for as wonderful as Crampton is, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Fessenden’s work here, too, because there’s a subtlety to his performance in Jakob’s Wife that I really enjoyed, especially considering just how much the dynamic changes between his character and Crampton’s from start to finish. At the beginning, Jakob’s more concerned about his duties and commitments to his church than he is to the ones he has made to his wife, but Fessenden’s portrayal of Jakob isn’t really cold or callous, either. It’s just how he is, and once he realizes what’s going on with Anne as she’s beginning to transform into this entity that’s foreign to him in more ways than one, I really appreciated how atypically this new dynamic is continually explored throughout Jakob’s Wife, right up until the very end of the film.
Something else I wanted to bring up is that even though there are several elements to Jakob’s Wife that sidestep the usual vampire lore we see in films of this ilk, and that is pretty darn groovy, my favorite thing about Stevens’ latest is that it plays out like a modernized love letter to Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot miniseries, and that my friends, is exactly how you win me over as a viewer. From the title card to several of the vampire sequences (I won’t get into specifics there because I don’t want to ruin everything for fans who can see the film in just a few weeks) to the design of “The Master” herself (who resembles Barlow and feels like she’s his much cooler sister that you would definitely want to spend an eternity with traveling all around the world), so many of these Salem’s Lot-esque notes were greatly appreciated by this writer and made me enjoy the movie even more so than I already was.
As a whole, Stevens has done a great job with injecting some new blood into the vamp-centric subgenre with Jakob’s Wife, and I enjoyed how well he managed to blend together elements of this story that were both dramatic and campy here as well. Also, I’ll say this as non-spoilery as possible, but I would absolutely love to see more stories in the future set in this world with these characters, because it would be a total blast.
Movie Score: 3.5/5