After the traumatic death of his brother during the war, Jacob Singer is finally getting his life together. But after serving in the war himself, Jacob is not the same man he was before he was deployed. He remains haunted by flashbacks and hallucinations related to his service, and his episodes are starting to become more and more vivid. When the brother he thought was dead comes back into his life, the disturbing images he’s started to see start to become more and more pronounced, and the world he’s built around him slowly starts to unravel.
Goodbye happy life…
Oh my, well, this film is…. Unfortunate, to say the least. Based on the 1990 film of the same name, Jacob’s Ladder from 2019 is a loose re-imagining of the original cult classic that centered around the story of a man grappling with existential questions regarding life and death. But when I say the movie is a “loose re-imagining,” I mean that it’s really loose. As in, really, REALLY loose. So loose in fact, that it doesn’t contain the same vibe, or even tackle the same themes or subject matter, and would have probably been better off if someone had just given the poor movie its own completely unrelated title, instead of condemning it to follow in the earlier film’s footsteps.
This remake claims to be a psychological horror just like the film that inspired it. But in reality it’s not. There are a few moments that would qualify as jump scares, and there are also a couple of uses of disturbing imagery, so the psychological descriptor is accurate. But on the whole, this movie is played more like a Thriller centered around family drama. Which, that’s fine. I 100% feel that if you’re going to insist on remaking a film that people already liked, you gotta go in a different direction to keep things fresh. Which is exactly what this movie did, so kudos to them for at least getting that much right. But regardless of whether or not you label it a horror or a thriller, the film still fails spectacularly, because it ends up committing one of the cardinal sins of both genres, that of being blandly and un-inspiringly DULL. And that’s really the nicest descriptor I can come up for this movie. It’s just dull. Even though the film mimics the confusing narrative and the jumpy edits of the original, it still manages to be mundane and wildly predictable, because it doesn’t bother to do anything new or unique. Where the original kept you guessing and doubting your conclusions and constantly wondering just WTF was going on, this film feels nothing but obnoxiously familiar. And even if you haven’t seen the original and you go into this film with a completely blank slate, I guarantee you’ll still figure out the movie’s big “twist” long before the film ever gets around to revealing it, because you’ve likely already seen something very similar to it before. Hell, even the hallucinations the movie utilizes are repetitive. Black-eyed, pasty ghouls? Seen them. Slimy looking vampire-esque creatures? Seen those too. Blood appearing and disappearing on a whim? Yawn,…it’s not only been done, but done to better effect long before this film, or the original, ever came out. And that’s not to say that I’m claiming that the 1990 version was perfect in any way, because it wasn’t. I enjoy that film, but I could probably go back and find parts to complain about without any trouble. But even those who don’t like the original and think it’s a confusing, jumbling mess with some weird-ass visuals, at least have to begrudgingly admit that it’s also a very unique and memorable film. The same can sadly not be said for the remake. The update is so atrociously bland that, odds are, you’ll start to forget parts of it before you’ve even had time to turn it off.
Who are you? Oh, it doesn’t matter? Nevermind then…
It doesn’t help that, on top of looking like they’ve been pulled from other films, a lot of the effects the film uses also feel horribly dated. And by that I mean, it looks like they’re using some pretty questionable and cruddy CGI that looks like it would have been considered old and bad ten years ago, let alone in 2019. I mean, at no point does the film do anything that would be considered too outlandish or extraordinary, so there’s really no reason for things like the blood and skin effects to look this bad. I feel like a low-tier YouTube makeup artist would have been a better investment instead of trying to get a computer to make someone’s skin look pale and vein-y.
Hey, look! A 30 Days of Night extra!
And have you noticed the trend among horror movie makers lately where they’re showing you a darkened scene and they make a certain part of said scene look extra, unnaturally dark, either so they can try to scare you when something POPS! out of it, or lose an actor when they run into its darkened void? Yeah, this movie has that too, except they apparently didn’t realize that the only way scenes like that actually work is if you take the time and effort to blend that supernatural darkness into the rest of the frame. So in this film, instead of running into the darkness, it just looks like the character is running into a giant smear of black paint that somehow ended up on the filmstock. That scene alone just seems to highlight the issue this film had with effects in general. It’s like the filmmakers knew what they needed to do, but either didn’t have the knowledge or effort to pull all of it off.
Of course, now that it’s in GIF form it doesn’t look so bad. Curses!
I tried to go into this remake of Jacob’s Ladder with an open mind despite its awful scores, but boy howdy—now I can easily see why it was so poorly received. Which doesn’t mean I agree with all the “1 out of 10’s” or the lowly 4% Rotten Tomatoes score, because I don’t necessarily think it’s quite that bad. And really, I kinda liked some of the ideas it put forward, like updating and relating the hallucinations to a byproduct of PTSD. Because that’s actually a nice, modern and relatable takeaway to the changing concerns involving wars and treating veterans. But at the same time you can tell this remake is really just a “remake” in name only. Like, thanks to some of the obvious references and callbacks, you can tell that the filmmakers at least watched the original, but it’s also clear that they didn’t really understand it. They recreated a couple of visuals as an Easter Egg of sorts, took a film with a complex plot and multiple interweaving themes regarding life and death, focused on the wrong aspects of said plot, namely the crippling paranoia and government conspiracies, slapped the same name on it, and hoped no one would notice. Well, surprise surprise, they did, and they weren’t too happy about it. Hence all the tragically low review scores. But while the movie might not be quite as bad as some would make it out to be, and despite my belief that it probably would have fared at least a little bit better with viewers if it hadn’t been linked to the film from the 90’s, there’s just no getting around that the remake of Jacob’s Ladder is still a shockingly boring movie. It’s not clever, it’s not fun, there’s no outstanding visuals to keep you interested, and there’s no compelling acting to keep you engaged. It’s just a bland little movie with little emotion and no passion behind it. And that’s not good look for any film, no matter what genre it is, or name you happen to slap on it.
Jacob’s Ladder is available on a variety of streaming services.
Jacob’s Ladder is also available on DVD.