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Jacob's Ladder

I wasn't expecting too much from Jacob's Ladder. Directed by a man who's mostly made cheap thrillers and crass remakes, the film looked more like a interesting concept that would crumble under poor direction and misguided production. Having finished the film, I'm surprised to say that Jacob's Ladder was better than I expected it to be. It's got a great atmosphere and is surprisingly very character-orientated. At the same time, however, part of my prediction came true - the film slowly falls apart thanks to poor direction.

We follow the titular Jacob Singer in the film, a former Vietnam veteran who's only now slowly becoming re-integrated into society. Though he's well-educated and has a doctoral degree, Jacob settles for a job as a letter carrier and has become romantically involved with one of his co-workers, Jezzie. Things aren't too great for Jacob, however, as his anxieties about the death of his late son and Vietnam might be getting to him. For, as it turns out, Jacob has recently been seeing demons and apparitions of the darkest kind in the world around him. What's worse is that these demons seem to be after him, as well as several of his old war buddies, leading to a narrative filled with paranoia and supernatural activity.

The film is, as I said, surprisingly character-orientated. Jacob serves as an interesting and thoughtful protagonist, as get to see the many aspects of his life before and after Vietnam. He's a quiet and reserved man and is the type to stand in the corner during a huge party. He's smart, likable, and very relateable (especially if you're quiet), making him a great protagonist. The script is very well-written, I found, making the rest of the cast and their interactions that much more interesting. The mood can switch from being cold to warm to downright creepy with an ease that showcases the scriptwriter's talent.

The atmosphere is great as well. In fact, this atmosphere was so striking that it inspired the creation of the Silent Hill series - a series of horror video games that revolve around fleshy monsters. The film rarely shows the demons or other horrors at first, making for an uneasy and creepy drama film with a decent amount of pure psychological horror. However, a bit after the halfway mark, we're allowed too many scenes with the demons, to the point where they're not that scary or intimidating anymore. They're just...creepy.

Where the film falls apart, for me, is after the sequence with Jacob being awakened from the cold-water bath. From there, the psychological horror becomes more visual-based and the film becomes far more conventional as well. It starts out really interesting as well, which just makes it that much sadder to admit how far it stumbles along the way. The first half was haunting and thought-provoking, but the second half is filled to the brim with convoluted explanations, plot twists, and poor flashbacks that seem redundant after the first series of flashbacks from the beginning.

That said, I'll admit that the visuals of the film look pretty good. The dark alleyways and abandoned subway stations add to that chilling atmosphere and the use of color only furthers that atmosphere. A particularly effective scene, if I recall correctly, would be the strobe-light sequence at the dance party. We Jacob standing around, as he's too shy and reserved to dance, while watching Jezzie dance with a few other men. Then, all of a sudden, large black bats fly overhead and the dance party begins to look far darker. The strobe-light beats as Jacob stares in horror as Jezzie dances, supposedly, with the devil itself. I say "itself" because this may be the most horrifying and gruesome depiction of the devil that I've ever seen. Instead of looking an animal, or something along those lines, the devil is depicted as a fleshy creature with wings that resemble bloody shoulderblades, a tail that looks like a penis, and disgusting hooves that resemble piles of rotten flesh-bags. Little is shown and it's probably the most effective scene in the entire film.

Jacob's Ladder is a pretty good film. Though it ends in a very convoluted and manipulative way, the start of the film and the atmosphere is just great. Its characters are interesting, its creatures are disgusting, and it's worth watching once.




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