Monday Morning Movie Review: Jakob’s Wife (2021)

I am a great lover of vampire movies and stories, and am always interested to see how filmmakers and storytellers approach the well-worn vampire mythology.  Every vampire story must take time to establish the “rules” of that particular vampiric universe, so the (sub?)genre lends itself to world-building.  Some vampires can survive in sunlight, though uncomfortably; others can endure limited exposure; still others burst instantly into flames.  Some vampires fear the sign of the Cross; others laugh at it mockingly; still others fear the faith in what the symbol represents, but the symbol is rendered powerless without that faith.

Vampire stories also offer the opportunity to explore interesting themes.  Immortality is a common one:  what happens when you have forever to live on Earth?  Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire (1976) explores that idea in great detail, specifically the ennui and nihilism that come with earthly eternal “life.”  The initial thrill of vampiric power and endless nights of bloody reverie gradually turn to centuries of self-indulgent, murderous moping, as the vampire passively watches the world he loved transform around him into something unrecognizable.

This month, Shudder released a new exclusive, Jakob’s Wife (2021), a feminist-inflected vampire story starring 80s scream queen Barbara Crampton.  While the feminist themes were a bit heavy-handed at points, the film handled the subject matter with a surprising degree of nuance.  Suffice it to say that, like tell-tale two-pronged mark of the vampire’s bite, this film has stuck with me.

The premise is straightforward:  Anne (Crampton) is the dutiful, submissive wife of Jakob (Larry Fessenden), a small town minister of some High Protestant extraction.  Jakob is the picture of a comfortable country vicar—pudgy, relaxed, but a bit self-righteous.  Anne serves him dutifully, preparing his breakfast daily, and generally supporting his ministry.

When a young parishioner goes missing, Jakob and company write it off as a teen girl running off with her boyfriend.  Anne attempts to speak up to the sheriff, noting that it was out of the girl’s character to do such a thing, but Jakob interrupts her and—it seems unwittingly—shuts her down.

Shortly thereafter, Anne’s handsome and successful high school boyfriend, Tom (Robert Rusler) rolls into town, under the pretense of renovating an old factory to turn into a retail and living space.  Anne visits the abandoned factory with Tom, where the two kiss, rekindling their old flame, before Anne pushes him away.

If it’s starting to sound like a Lifetime movie, hold on:  things take a sinister turn when Tom is attacked by an unseen creature, and Anne is enveloped in the cloaks of a vampire.  Anne then appears at home, dazed, but clearly changed by the nightmarish experience.

Soon Anne begins behaving strangely, and realizes the extent of her newfound powers.  She stops making her husband breakfast, and begins to dress more lavishly.  Her quiet church mouse persona morphs into a live-out-loud, charismatic mode.

Eventually, Anne’s irresistible thirst for human blood gets the better of her, though, and Jakob does what he can to help his wife (including burying one of her victims in the backyard).  It’s the very definition of ride-or-die (or, perhaps, ride-or-undead).

The two confront the now-vampiric teenage girl in the factory, but Jakob hesitates to make the killing blow, leaving Anne to do so.  Anne is disgusted with Jakob’s weakness and timidity; Jakob is horrified by what Anne has become, and attempts to call the marriage quits, as she is no longer the woman (or, indeed, even the being) that he married.

But Jakob ultimately rises to the occasion.  Anne wants to stay with him, but wants more decision-making powers in the relationship.

These tensions come to a head when the vampire that turned Anne, The Master (Bonnie Aarons), offers Anne the opportunity to become fully a vampire, enjoying all of the power and independence that come with that role.  At the critical moment, as Anne is on the cusp of making her decision, Jakob pierces The Master from behind with a wooden stake, draws a Cross on the back of her head with her own black bile, and destroys her utterly.

Anne screeches that it was her choice to make, and is frustrated that her husband—who has now grown to be bold and heroic—deprived her of it.

I take the film to be a pro-feminist message piece—Anne desperately wants to be able to enjoy some control over her life, and to indulge in her “wild side”—but it comes across pro-patriarchy, albeit unintentionally.  Anne does not fully consider the cost of her choice to become fully vampiric would be.  She is clearly behaving recklessly—indeed, murderously—as her full femininity is unleashed from the constraints of her normally religious existence.  It takes the heroic action of her husband to free her from the seductive but bloodthirsty Master’s offer.

Indeed, the film seems to suggest how destructive unbridled feminine freedom can be.  Anne flirts with committing adultery and murders an innocent neighbor.

But her husband is not without fault, either.  Jakob has so suppressed Anne—the film suggests he does so unwittingly—that their marriage is joyless and routine.  He’s grown overly complacent and comfortable.  The film does show his growing boldness, though, such as when he takes a joint from a teenaged hoodlum who is smoking it in the church parking lot (in a later scene, Jakob and Anne smoke the joint to clear her mind of its vampiric bloodlust).

What the film does well is show the nuance of Jakob and Anne’s decisions, and how their characters grow and transform over the course of the film.  Anne remains, it seems, half-vampire at the end of the film, with the couple forging a new understanding of their marriage—and both are full recommitted to it.

There’s more I could say, but it’s a film that defies easy characterization.  Knowing the general worldly philosophy of modern films, it does seem likely that Jakob’s Wife is intended to be a female empowerment film, but it shows the pitfalls of that approach, too.

23 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Jakob’s Wife (2021)

  1. “… feminist-inflected …” That’s hilarious! Brilliant.

    One of the things I enjoy most about your posts (aside from excellent thought and writing) is how your topics poke at my memory. In you, dear Port, I have found a fellow traveler, a person with whom I can share crazy horror movies. (laughing out loud). But this particular post has prompted two things I want to tell you about.

    First; you must watch the Z Nation series on Netflix. As you’ve mentioned the different kinds of vampires (in ‘my day’, there was only one kind), Z Nation takes everything you thought you knew about zombies and spins it on its head. It blasts ‘zombie lore’ out of the water. Imagine fast zombies! But you have to watch it to appreciate it.

    Second, and this one I can’t recommend highly enough, is the book “Casca – The Eternal Mercenary” by Barry Sadler. The premise is that Casca – the soldier that pierced with his lance the side of Jesus on the cross – is cursed to spend eternity as a soldier. I only read the first book. https://www.amazon.com/Casca-Eternal-Mercenary-Barry-Sadler-ebook/dp/B00I5PB48E/ref=sr_1_3?crid=BR9WF0FWP5U3&dchild=1&keywords=casca+the+eternal+mercenary&qid=1630330164&s=books&sprefix=casca%2Caps%2C210&sr=1-3.

    If you go to Amazon, you’ll see Sadler has written 50 Casca books, taking his character from two thousand years ago to modern day war. War is Casca’s eternal earthly life. What a horror – a real horror – that would be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an amazing premise in the Casca books! It sounds like a terrible fate, indeed. Fifty books is quite a series; that would keep me busy from, well, here to eternity!

      You’ve recommended the Z Nation series before. Sounds like my girlfriend and I might need to do some Labor Day Weekend binge-watching.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Saw what you did there”; nice one.

    I’m not really interested in war, I only read the original Casca book because of the Legionnaire (is that the right word for him?) and Jesus. But it was a very good book. Still talking about it all these years later.

    I promise you won’t get bored with Z Nation – like I said, all new ‘lore’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think Roman soldiers were called legionaries Audre. I think Legonnaires were members of the French Foreign Legion.

      As Audre knows I cannot watch any kind of horror film or read any type of horror fiction. I am a bonnets and frocks costume drama kind of girl.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Nothing wrong with a good costumed period drama, Alys. Any recommendations?

        I sometimes worry that I’ve become desensitized to horror films after watching so many of them. Now I get more “unsettled” rather than scared by them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Alys … I was close, lol. Which, if you were American you would know, only counts in horseshoes, lol! Thanks for the correction!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Alys has developed an interest in old Japanese films and she’s really quite conversant about the genre. She would be an excellent resource for movies of different genres because she’s a Welsh-born Englishwoman who is a voracious reader and an astute movie reviewer. If that wasn’t enough (I know such terrific people!), she’s a master cook and baker. I keep trying to talk her into a YouTube Channel (my suggested title for the channel? The Alys Food Channel). She’s incredibly knowledgeable about cooking and baking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would LOVE to know more about old Japanese films. Such a fascinating country; one of my favorite classes in college was History of Modern Japan.

      I’m always open to exploring new films. I love horror flicks, but I appreciate other genres, too. I’d also like to read some of Alys’s writing, if you have any links to share.

      Liked by 1 person

      • To the best of my knowledge, she’s only written one article, for TCW in England. She is, of course, a very good writer – I LOVE her emails. Which reminds me – you know how great authors wind up books written about them, “The Collected Letters of …”. Who’s going to write Alys’s Collected Emails????

        Liked by 1 person

      • Great question! I often wonder what will happen to the massive volumes of e-mail correspondence between notable literary figures. Will those e-mails eventually be collected and published? Or will they be lost on the cloud for all eternity (or until the server farms finally die)?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh good heavens. I stumbled upon some films by Yasujiro Ozu on YT during our last, and hopefully final lockdown, and now I am an expert on Japanese cinematography apparently. Good job I am sitting down or I might fall over laughing.

        As for writing I had two pieces published on The Conservative Woman ond one on NEO, my Christmas story. I am not disciplined enough to write regularly unless I am really pushed.

        I will admit to being a pretty good cook and baker though but that has been a lifelong interest.

        And I love music of what is loosely termed the classical variety. I was interested to read your piece on Britten’s Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra. When I was in school our music teacher used Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf to introduce us to the instruments of the orchestra. I listened to it recently on Spotify. My current music obsessions include Ralph Vaughn Williams and I am a massive lover of lieder singing particularly as performed by Dietrich Fischer Dieskau. Favourite living singer? Thomas Allen.

        Going to stop now.

        Liked by 2 people

      • We still listened to Peter and the Wolf when I was a child, too, which would have been the early 1990s. I really need to pull it out again as a way to teach students, especially the younger ones, the instruments. Maybe I will play it for the middle school class after we’ve gone through all of the instruments, and see if they can identify them by tone color alone.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think that’s a brilliant idea, Port! What a great – and fun! – way to see if they’ve been paying attention. They might even be interested in how many years it’s been used to instruct children. I was probably in fourth grade when we had Peter and the Wolf so that would be … (calculating …) probably around 1963.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey, thanks—and thanks for inspiring it! I always seem to neglect poor Peter, even though it was such a part of my early music education. I do think the kids would find that interesting, to know that it’s been used in music classes for decades.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey, all it takes these days to be an “expert” is a passing familiarity with a subject and an itchy pen. You’ve gotsta fake it ’til you make it, haha.

        I’ll look up your Christmas story (which I likely read) and the pieces on TCW. I know I recognize your name, likely from the comment sections on some of these intertwined blogs.

        If I ever find myself in England, I will be sure to pop in for tea and crumpets, based on your reputation as a cook and baker.

        I do love lieder. I like Franz Schubert’s works. Every year I show my students a performance of “Der Erlkoenig” that is quite spooky and fun.

        Please, don’t stop—comment away! Hopefully WordPress will figure out soon that you’re not spamming the comments, and I won’t have to “approve” every one of your comments.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I cannot leave comments under NEO via my iPad as they just vanish into cyber space for some bizarre reason and my clunky old laptop isn’t being co-operative at the moment. If you search on Conservative Woman my name is spelled Alice (Williams) there but Alys on NEO. There are two pieces on TCW, one about the clergy at the cathedral in Wells, Somerset where I live and another about Bon Appetit food magazine.

    Nice to have ‘met’ you Portly.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This review must have popped up late. I checked at around 12-1pm (our time) and nothing was here so my late comment probably won’t be seen.

    30 Days of Night and Let The Right One In (the Icelandic version) – these are excellent vampire movies. Completely different – one being more action/horror based, the other focusing more on the relationship between the vampire and school loner – but excellent nonetheless. Horror, in whichever subgenre, post 2017 I tend to avoid. I’ve picked up and watched too many duds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was late posting it. The long weekend, plus a gnarly head cold, wiped me out Sunday, and I pushed everything I needed to do Sunday evening to Monday morning. I’m still playing catch-up, but I’m getting back into my usual routine.

      I think I saw _Let the Right One In_, the Swedish flick. Is that the one with the two young girls who have a lesbian relationship? It seems like every Swedish film features a lesbian relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Since I can’t edit my comment, Swedish not Icelandic. There was an Icelandic horror I saw years ago (I can’t recall the name) that had a similar pace and I got mixed up.

    Liked by 2 people

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