Travis Stevens should thank his lucky stars for Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden. Stevens’ vampiric domestic drama/horror film Jakob’s Wife suffers from poor storytelling and pacing choices in its first half, to the point where you’d be forgiven for throwing in the towel before the 45-minute mark. The presence of the film’s two genre legend stars, fortunately, does just enough to command your attention and eventually reward it, even if said reward comes far later–and in smaller quantities–than it should.
Anne (Crampton) is a preacher’s wife whose decades-long marriage to Jakob (Fessenden) has left her in an unfulfilled rut. She stays at home all day, following the same routine of workout videos, gardening and meal-making. Jakob, for his part, isn’t a bad person, but he’s a fairly oblivious husband. Their lives change when Anne has a meetup with an old flame. After a scary encounter with a shadowy force leaves the guy dead and Anne wounded, she starts exhibiting strange symptoms, to Jakob’s increasing shock. She feels stronger, more vibrant. However, she’s also having issues with sunlight, and exhibiting a strange new taste for blood.
For half of its runtime, Jakob’s Wife appears to be similarly stuck in a rut, which is odd considering the genre tradition it’s part of contains many similar stories that have no trouble with momentum. The script, co-written by Stevens, Kathy Charles, and Mark Steensland withholds the source of Anne’s affliction, a Nosferatu-esque bloodsucker called The Master (The Nun’s Bonnie Aarons), until late in the film. That decision doesn’t lend an air of mystery as much as it robs the first two acts of valuable information. It could be an opportunity for deeper character study of Anne and Jakob, except the film doesn’t seem interested in that, presenting scene after scene of poor dialogue and bored looks from Crampton in the hopes that will cover it.
When things do get bloody, and Jakob and Anne have to contend with their new reality, the dynamic between Fessenden and Crampton finally crackles to life. They’re so much fun that the first half of the film feels like even more of a waste. Jakob finds a new purpose in vampire hunting and trying to kill The Master, while at the same time having to help his wife, an actual vampire, cover up her own mounting body count. Fessenden’s exasperation plays well off Crampton, who’s wrestling with her affection for her husband and her desire to throw off the shackles of her old life, while also consuming human blood to stay alive.
There’s a kernel of a good idea at the heart of Jakob’s Wife. Combining marital malaise and a woman’s journey to rediscover her purpose with transformational horror presents a considerable gold mine of dark comedy and sociopolitical metaphor. In its best moments, the film scratches the surface of these concepts. Unfortunately, the movie relies on its stars to do almost all the heavy lifting to communicate them. Crampton and Fessenden do their absolute best, but they can only be as good as the material they’re given, and that material isn’t up to the task.
“Jakob’s Wife” is in theaters and on demand Friday.