Religious imagery has often lent itself to horror movies in various ways and it does so again in Travis Stevens’ Jakob’s Wife. The movie opens with an ominous shot of a church, tilting down to rats squeaking on the ground (those with a fear of rodents need not apply to Jakob’s Wife). Stevens takes us inside the church to listen to the pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) sermonize on the role of husbands and wives, while his wife Anne (Barbara Crampton) dutifully looks on, if not exactly taking in his words.
This very moment sets the tone for the movie’s message, which, as one could expect for a horror movie, isn’t told subtly. It doesn’t need to be; Jakob’s Wife knows exactly what movie it is and fully embraces its schlock value and narrative purpose in equal measure.
Anne and Jakob have been married for a long time, but the monotony of such time together seems to be wearing on Anne. There’s an expectation she plays the role of a doting wife to Jakob, but Anne is silently retreating from such a retrograde notion in small ways. She continues to go through the daily motions, but her husband’s irritants become much more obvious. In an effort to upend routine, Anne jumps at the chance to have dinner with Tom (Robert Rusler), a previous boyfriend of hers, despite Jakob’s hesitations.
On their night out, old passions resurface, but something happens to Anne, which transforms her completely. She is no longer playing the assigned role of Jakob’s wife. She has a new, demonic lease on life, causing her to lust after blood and living things and must navigate this new lifestyle as the wife of a pastor.
The connection between the horror aspect and Anne’s desire to embrace a new lifestyle is blunt, and even culminates in Crampton’s character telling us what the whole movie has meant. It shows a bit of a distrust on the part of the screenplay to allow the audience to follow along, but Jakob’s Wife knows precisely what it’s doing along the way. Made on a minimal budget, the over-the-top gore seems knowingly cheesy, trying to provide throwback cheap thrills, perfectly made for a midnight movie audience.
Crampton is completely comfortable leading this movie, having made a name for herself in the genre with Re-Animator. She returned to the big screen with 2011’s You’re Next (which Fessenden also starred in) and has had small roles every so often since then. She gets to be front-and-center in Jakob’s Wife and relishes every moment. Even when the movie falters – which happens often – it’s easy to be drawn in by how much fun Crampton is having.
Jakob’s Wife features another storyline involving a girl from the parish who goes missing. While this plot isn’t necessarily ignored, it feels superfluous to the overall movie and just pads the film to reach its 98-minute runtime. Anne’s search for a new way of living would have sufficed as the sole focus of the movie