The classic vampire story is hugely well-trodden ground within the horror genre, and it takes something truly refreshing to stake its claim as treading unfettered ground. Blade did it in 1998 with its slick aesthetics and witty script, and Twilight did it a decade later by introducing young adult audiences to the bloodsucking undead. In steps Jakob’s Wife, a Shudder original film out on DVD and Blu-Ray now, that also attempts to leave an indelible bite-mark on this subgenre.
Very aptly titled, Jakob’s Wife follows Anne (Barbara Crampton), a middle-aged housewife married to the local minister (Larry Fessenden). Theirs is a relationship devoid of much love, brimming with distance, secrets, and forlorn desires. A chance encounter with a supernatural being leaves Anne with a series of vampiric powers, through which she discovers the gifts of agency and self-determination – all while contending with a rising body count.
As this brief synopsis may suggest, Jakob’s Wife is refreshingly open with its premise. The screenplay, from Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, and director Travis Stevens, makes no effort to hide the newfound emancipation of Anne’s vampiric tendencies, but this is far from a bad thing. It’s an honest and forthcoming presentation of the metaphor, that being held back in an incompatible marriage doesn’t have to be the end for Anne. It’s anchored by a really strong performance by star-cum-producer Crampton, who really nails the instant coldness required as Anne’s transformation takes shape.
In many ways, Jakob’s Wife feels like Gone Girl crossed with Dracula; the latest in the canon of female-led ‘good for her’ stories where, despite some moral misgivings, it’s hard not to see where the feminist message comes from. Your expectations of the vampire plot structure — where the protagonist slowly loses any semblance of humanity — is cleverly subverted here, akin to something like The Vampire Diaries in how Anne retains her personality after her transformation. She’s enlightened by a bite from the grotesque ‘Master’ vampire (Bonnie Aarons), defiled by evil but still gaining a twisted sort of independence from it.
Fear not, though, as Jakob’s Wife takes itself nowhere near as seriously as its contemporaries. While the script isn’t brimming with punchlines or wacky moments, it’s an unquestionably light-hearted affair. Gallons upon gallons of practical blood spurt across the screen whenever a neck is torn, and a particularly wacky death scene involving rats will no doubt arise a wry smile. The only shame is that the screenplay itself isn’t funnier, as there was certainly room here to go for a pseudo-satire on the vampire genre.
But that’s a minor gripe in a horror that won’t revolutionise the vampire model, but does come through with an undeniably singular spin. Jakob’s Wife is a witty commentary on patriarchy and the unbalanced nature of male power, while also managing to satisfy horror fans in the meantime. In that sense it’ll no doubt bring back memories of Shudder’s Lucky, which was equally audacious with its approach. Overall then, it makes Jakob’s Wife a fun watch that has more to say than a lot of its contemporaries.
Jakob’s Wife is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital from Acorn Media.