August 19, 2019 Jacob’s Ladder (Movie Review)
In November of 1990, Adrian Lyne (Flashdance 1983, Fatal Attraction 1987) delivered one of the most gripping Psychological Horrors of its time with the film Jacob’s Ladder. While it was not exactly a blockbuster success, it certainly made waves amongst cine-critics and audiences everywhere, catapulting its cult status. Starring Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer, who is haunted by disturbing hallucinations as he struggles to decipher reality from his dreams, the film was a visceral and transcendent take on PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) that continues to hold up today.
Available exclusively on DISH July 25th and in theaters and VOD on August 23rd from Vertical Entertainment, all these years later, the cult classic will get a total makeover. Directed by David M. Rosenthal (Janie Jones 2010, The Perfect Guy 2015) and written by Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train 2008, Pet Sematary 2019) and Sarah Thorpe, this re-imagining follows the same themes of PTSD and ghoulish delusions as the original.
In the new film, Michael Ealy (Takers 2010, For Colored Girls 2010) takes on the role of the protagonist Jacob Singer, a trauma surgeon burdened by the death of his brother Isaac (Jesse Williams: Grey’s Anatomy series, Cabin in the Woods 2011) who was fatally wounded in battle in Afghanistan. Rightfully so, as Singer discovered that the patient that showed up practically eviscerated on his table was his brother after he recognized the distinct tattoo on his right arm.
Jacob splits his time between frequent therapy visits to confront his trauma and PTSD and raising his newborn son with his wife (Nicole Beharie: Sleepy Hollow series, 42 2013). That was until one day he is stopped by a crazed homeless man claiming that his deceased brother is still alive. Cue instant paranoia and confusion as the world around him slowly begins to deteriorate.
While the premise is still essentially the same, the remake is more of a Psychological Thriller rather than an outright Horror film. There are remnants of the original laid out in some of the visuals such as the distorted faces, disappearing acts, and other reality-bending moments. Some of the more blatant similarities are in the scenes that directly pay homage to the original like the bathtub scene and the bedroom scene featuring a sexualized female-like creature. However, it does not hold a candle to the infamous Elizabeth Peña lizard club scene in the original.
Jacob’s Ladder focuses on the estranged relationship between Jacob and Issac, with Ealy and Williams being the two standouts in the film. Ealy is certainly no stranger to challenging roles as he played a deranged stalker ex in 2015’s The Perfect Guy– also directed by David M. Rosenthal – which is most likely where he got the idea to place him in this film’s lead role. Williams on the other hand, known best for his role as the seemingly well-put-together Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, takes on a much different character arc. The only disappointment is that the film does not utilize Nicole Beharie’s acting chops to its highest potential as her character is mostly used as a plot device to further the male character’s storylines.
While Jacob’s Ladder delivers a gripping and heartbreaking story about two brothers, it’s really just that. The theme of PTSD as a prominent factor in Jacob’s deteriorating reality is only discussed in passing. You know it’s an issue because of his frequent therapy visits and the graphic depictions of war and homelessness among vets, however it’s not a huge factor in this storyline. Additionally, there are glimpses of the original sprinkled through the film but it’s nowhere near the hallucinatory-nightmarish mind-fuck that the original 1990 film is.
Granted, no remake wants to completely recap the original piece by piece, however the lack of supernatural influences and depiction of mental health is a let-down. In addition to the film leaning more on the thriller side, the visuals also relied heavily on CGI versus practical effects which could have potentially elevated the mind-bending element that Jacob’s Ladder is known for.
The key is to approach this film as its own entity. If you are looking for an exact replica of the 1990 film, this is not it. Especially if you were a fan of the supernatural influences and grotesque visuals. However, if you are into Psychological Thrillers with a solid plot and exceptional acting, this is worth a watch. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Jacob’s Ladder 4 out of 5 stars.