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[SXSW Review] Vampire comedy ‘Jakob’s Wife’ struggles to keep up with outstanding performance by Barbara Crampton

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Unconditional of terror Barbara cramptonappearance in You are the next ushered in a prolific renaissance of the genre that includes both production and acting. All of that experience culminates in a monster-like metaphor that attempts to restructure the vampire myth to allow its protagonist to sink his fangs into a meaty lead role. She’s performing in front of the indie horror darling Larry Fessenden, which only further fuels the allure of what seems like a safe bet for any horror fanatic. Despite a solid concept and moments of fun and humor, Jakob’s wife struggles to keep up with Barbara Crampton’s performance.

Crampton plays Anne Fedder, the obedient wife of the town’s pastor, Jakob (Fessenden). Decades together meant their marriage long ago became a family daily routine built almost entirely around Jakob. When Tom (Robert Rusler), an old love of Anne, returns to town to revive the old gin mill estate, Anne’s curiosity is piqued. Before the flirtations pass the point of no return, Tom and Anne discover Nosferatu-like boxes in the mill cellar, resulting in a nasty bite on Anne’s neck. When Anne begins her transformation into a vampire, it awakens a new zest for life in her that comes with a death count that doesn’t bode well for their marriage.

Using vampirism as a metaphor for an outdated relationship makes the concept and foundation solid. She also has a substantial role in Anne. She starts out meek and subservient, highlighted by the numerous scenes in which she gives in to her more assertive husband, even when it’s clear she feels otherwise. She finds confidence in vampirism, shaking up the status quo of their relationship and making her needs clear for once. It is here that Jakob’s wife works better. The scenes with Crampton all alone, improving as she rearranges her living room while drinking blood from a glass of wine, are delightful. So is any scene in front of Fessenden, as Jakob and Anne are forced to confront their new dynamic.

Outside of the middle pair, however, energy levels drop dramatically and pacing is sometimes affected. As various peripheral characters drift in and out of the story, many of them seem to struggle with the strange tonal mixing director. Travis stevens (Girl on the third floor) is trying to capture. This is a horror comedy, but the humor is more quirky than conventional. Horror elements rely more on excessive bloodshed, which should please the hounds. Still, the balancing act is a difficult line to walk, and most of the supporting characters seem superfluous.

Jakob’s wife wears his vampire influences on his sleeves, right down to a Barlow / Count Orlok-like master, played by an unfairly underused Bonnie aarons (The hole). Budget restrictions show up occasionally too, especially when CG rats attack. The practical effects are much stronger, but they still look rough around the edges in places, and the garish lighting doesn’t help. It’s not entirely clear whether these choices are intentional, intended to give a wild B-movie feel. If so, it detracts from the surprisingly tender shock of Anne’s arc.

This horror comedy is Barbara Crampton’s show from start to finish. It is up to her to bring this film, and she is more than up to the task. Fessenden’s character versus guy allows him to support his performance satisfactorily, and the narrative is best when it’s just the two of them on screen. At a technical level, Jakob’s wife it’s messy and disjointed. Her stupidity often undermines her exploration of topics and clever gender swapping. Furthermore, it lacks a clear identity; there are two movies at war at stake. The first few comments are forgotten in favor of B-movie thrills. Still, the over-the-top gore, great soundtrack, and completely unleashed Crampton will be more than enough to please the midnight crowd looking for a gory moment.

Jakob’s wife releases in cinemas and VOD in April 16th.

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