Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 7, 2021)
With a title like Jakob’s Wife, one might expect a tale about a hard-working farm clan set in 1900s Russia. Instead, the 2021 flick offers a horror story.
Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) serves as the minister in a small town. For decades, his wife Anne (Barbara Crampton) supported him in a dutiful manner, and she now starts to feel taken for granted and stuck in a rut.
When her former lover Tom Low (Robert Rusler) visits, Anne starts to think about a more exciting existence. After she meets “The Master” (Bonnie Aarons), she also finds herself with bite marks on her neck, a factor that leads her into a major transformation.
Crampton first earned some fame via 1985’s cult classic Re-Animator. Though she spent a lot of time on soap operas over the years, I think horror remains her calling card, and Wife finds her at home in this genre.
I’ll say this for Crampton: she appears unafraid to let the movie show her age. Granted, the story requires an actor well into middle age, as the narrative needs a person who looks like a longtime small town preacher’s wife.
Still, I appreciate that Crampton shows no vanity or attempts to hide the fact she’s in her sixties. One scene shows Crampton as she pokes and prods her aging face, with all sorts of wrinkles, sags and spots on display.
Beyond the lead’s unusual willingness to look her age, does Wife offer much to stand out from the crowd? Not really, as the movie offers a largely standard vampire story.
That said, Crampton does well as our lead. She conveys Anne’s timidity at the start and makes her transformation natural and convincing.
Indeed, Crampton unquestionably becomes the movie’s biggest asset. She delights in Anne’s changes and adds both menace and gleeful perversity to the role.
Fessenden gets the more thankless part but he does fine as the semi-clueless Jakob. He also grows into the character as the movie gives him more to do after a largely supplemental function in the first act.
Where Wife falters relates to its sketchy story. In a weird way, the movie seems oddly reminiscent of 1991’s Fried Green Tomatoes in that we see a mousy housewife awakened by an encounter.
Wife lacks the earlier movie’s pretensions, of course, but it also fails to find a particularly strong narrative. We really focus on character beats and the occasional action/horror scene but we don’t locate an especially compelling plot.
Still, Wife manages to maintain our interest, if just due to a fine performance from its lead. This never threatens to become a great vampire flick but it seems more than watchable.
Footnote: an extremely minor auditory tag appears after the end credits.