The story of a woman coming into her power after getting a supernatural boost is hardly a new one — but much like more traditional makeover narratives, it’s often rewarding enough to justify being so familiar. The most delicious version of this tale usually involves a frumpy lass becoming a glamorous villain, like Uma Thurman blooming into Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin, or the misfit girls of The Craft becoming dazzling teen dreams. Jakob’s Wife, a new horror film coming to Shudder, walks the same path and with spectacular results.
Jakob’s Wife — the new film from Travis Stevens, who directed and also co-wrote with Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland — angles in by centering the action in a deceptively mundane setting, and by giving us an endearing main character whose eerie transformation is more liberating than terrifying. It is, however, still a rather nightmarish experience for Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton, star of Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Channel Zero, to name just a few), whose life prior to her sudden vampire encounter could kindly be described as despairingly dull.
Married to Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden, whose acting credits include You’re Next alongside Crampton and The Dead Don’t Die, and whose directing credits include The Last Winter and a segment in ABCs of Death 2), Anne’s played the role of a dutiful minister’s wife for 30 years, cooking, cleaning, sitting through her husband’s sermons, enduring his repulsive grooming habits, and holding her tongue every time he interrupts her or talks over her, which is often.
After a young member of the congregation goes missing, Anne sticks up for her, insisting that “good people don’t leave their families” when people start suggesting the teen may have run off with a boyfriend. That belief is something Anne herself must grapple with — first after a reunion with an old flame turns unexpectedly steamy, and then after she’s bitten by a mysterious creature and feels something awaken inside of her.
If she doesn’t want to make Jakob’s breakfast, well — she ain’t gonna. Prim cardigans and cross necklaces are out in favour of red lipstick and dramatic wardrobe choices (good thing she has an extensive collection of scarves to hide those new holes in her neck). She also discovers she has super-strength — rearranging the living room was never so easy! — and strong opinions of her own, the latter of which she’d forgotten about after decades of acquiescing to her husband’s point of view.
Jakob’s perplexed by her behaviour, but Anne has never been happier, admitting, “I feel more alive than I have in years.”
The irony there is, of course, that she’s technically less alive than before, though she isn’t quite a full vampire yet. “The hunger” is becoming a pressing problem (it’s worth mentioning Jakob’s Wife doesn’t skimp on the spurting, gushing, gruesome blood, and critter effects… this is a vampire movie, after all!), along with other inconveniences, like the dangers of sunlight.
There’s also the troubling yet titillating presence of “the Master,” the ancient vampire who bit Anne in the first place — something that Anne begins to realise was no random attack. (To name the actor who plays the Master would be a Jakob’s Wife spoiler, though you can easily find it online if you’re curious.) In fact, calling it an “attack” maybe isn’t quite accurate, considering how much Anne’s life has improved in its wake.
For his part, Jakob rolls with the vampire stuff much more agreeably than he does with Anne’s newly assertive, liberated personality — there’s no hesitation when it comes to getting holy water and stakes together to try and hunt down the Master, in the hopes that killing the top vampire will instantly change Anne back to her old, meek self.
Jakob’s Wife doesn’t take the easy way out with the Jakob character; he could have been just a closed-minded, misogynistic small-town minister type, and while there are some elements of that, he’s more a guy who’s just become so used to his comfortable routine that it doesn’t occur to him to ever want to change it. Fessenden is very good as this oblivious, mildly boorish (but not monstrous) man who’s stunned to realise that his wife’s long been deeply unhappy in their marriage. But really, this movie is all about Anne.
Crampton is reliably great in everything, but we often see her using her blonde, preppy good looks to contrast with whatever nefarious character she’s playing (see: her turn as an evil landlord on the most recent season of Creepshow).
Here, she’s just as effective as a good-hearted woman forced into a situation she wouldn’t have chosen — but who ultimately realises the power that comes with being able to choose for herself what happens next. Even if it involves guzzling human blood.
Jakob’s Wife is currently available on-demand and digital; it arrives on Shudder August 19.