Vampires have been used as a metaphor for sex and sexuality for a long time, since Dracula first made his appearance in print, seducing Lucy Westenra and turning her into a creature of the night. So often we see vampires luring in and seducing young men and women, allowing them to explore parts of themselves they’ve always been too afraid to examine. But it’s not often that we see vampires used to explore sex and sexuality in older characters. Jakob’s Wife bucks this trend, as we watch as Anne (Barbara Crampton), the wife of a small town minister, the titular Jakob (Larry Fessenden), finds her life changing after an encounter with a vampire.
The film opens with Anne as a dutiful and meek pastor’s wife, listening to her husband make boring and bland sermons about following the biblical versions of marriage, of how wives must honour their husbands, and how husbands must protect their wives. Straight away we see that Anne finds these sentiments less that engaging, almost staring daggers at her husband. And when we see their home lives be begin to understand why, as Jakob always interrupts Anne, how he expects a cooked breakfast every morning, and the two of them barely talk.
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After meeting up with an old boyfriend of hers, who has been hired to renovate the old town mill by the historical society (which Anne is a part of), the two of them are attacked by a shadowy figure. Returning home, covered in blood, Anne finds herself changing. She’s not hungry anymore, she’s stronger and fitter, and she no longer wants to simply exist in her old role. At first Jakob suspects Anne is having an affair, but when he’s attacked by a vampire himself he realises Anne has been turned. This sees him vowing to hunt down and kill the ‘Master’ vampire to save Anne from her curse.
The sudden shift in the relationship between Anne and Jakob is the highlight of the movie, as we see the change in Anne bring out different sides in the two of them. Anne feels freer than she ever has before. She walks with confidence, she dresses well, she exudes sensuality and grace, whilst Jakob suddenly sees himself as a weapon of God, fighting to save his wife from the clutches of evil.
Jakob’s Wife is really a look at marriage, in particular a long marriage that’s stuck in a rut and ‘traditional’ roles. It examines what happens when an older woman has had enough and decides to change, being allowed to be more herself after decades in a role she never really wanted. Because despite being turned against her will Anne enjoys the changes happening to her, she likes who she’s becoming. On the flip side of this Jakob is at times terrified of his wife, but also strongly attracted to this new her, aroused in ways you can tell he’s not been in years. The changes create conflict between the two of them, and the film walks a fine line of exploring a relationship that could come together stronger than every, or completely fall apart depending on how the two of them proceed from this point.
The film also makes the very clever decision to have the vampire who turned Anne, played by Bonnie Aarons of The Conjuring and The Nun fame, rather than a man. Instead of a mysterious male vampire coming in and causing a sexual awakening within Anne through seduction it’s a female vampire who does it because she can see the potential in Anne and wants to free her from the shackles of a joyless marriage. It’s something that’s pretty uncommon in vampire stories, and one that’s explored brilliantly by the main cast.
It’s not just all exploring marriage though, as the film manages to pack in a lot of dark humour, very deftly waking the line between horror and comedy, doing it better than a lot of films that try the same. The film is also helped by the over the top effects, with blood spraying like someone’s shooting cherryade through a fireman’s hose, and a vampire that looks like a dodgy Nosferatu cosplay. It adds a level of charm and ridiculousness to proceedings, that along with a sharp script, make it a really enjoyable experience.
Jakob’s Wife is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that has some genuinely great laughs, some spooky moments, and some great dramatic scenes. It tries to do something new and interesting with vampire mythology, and thanks to a great cast and solid script, it works really well.
Jakob’s Wife streams exclusively on Shudder from 19th August.