All of you classic horror fans are in luck, because in a wildly experimental and damn curious fervor, I watched both the Jacob’s Ladder movies back to back, the 1990 version starring Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption 1994), and the upcoming Jacob’s Ladder reboot starring Michael Ealy (Underworld Awakening 2012), Jesse Williams (The Cabin in the Woods 2011) and Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow TV series). I can tell you, I’m feeling a little more than spiraled down the ladder. Both movies are psychologically riveting, and I am happy to say that the director of the 2019 version, David M. Rosenthal (How It Ends 2018), was capable of creating an entirely new view on the story, while holding true to the strongly insidious, captivating and traumatizing visuals of the original. My head is in a dither, which is a good sign.
With that being said…
If anyone is familiar with the original, they know Jacob’s Ladder was designed to leave a mark on you. In a beautiful performance, Tim Robbins leaves the audience believing that they themselves are the PTSD-suffering, post-Vietnam war vet living in New York City. He is a normal man attempting to live a normal, post-divorce life after getting his PhD and living with a new woman that he is seems to be in love with. He is also dealing with the trauma of losing one of his children. We see him as a sweet, well-educated and easygoing man. However, he spirals out of control emotionally, and the movie is as twisting as a spiral staircase. It may leave one slightly exhausted. The 2019 version is no different, for the most part….
I am as cynical as the next horror fan when it comes to remakes. I am snobby enough to make the assumption that the goal of recreating classics is entirely capitalistic and not to honor the amazing art of the original. Am I wrong when it comes to this year’s Jacobs Ladder?
What I will say is that this version did not elevate the original for me. Did it compete? Yes. It’s a decent movie on its own. I still prefer the original, because Tim Robbins, accompanied by an amazing script, held me captive with his acting. I was held in suspense quite literally after watching the original film. I felt like I was in there with Jacob Singer, and I do attribute that to the acting of Robbins. There’s no pretentiousness there. Robbins wants us to relate to him, and he seamlessly creates a character on whom we can.
In this new version, I would criticize the acting, unfortunately. Being a fan of the original and already aware that is going to be some sort of a twist, I needed more from the movie to elevate that viewing experience. Otherwise, the film comes across as regurgitated. Rosenthal does a good job of attempting to re-create a classic, while, at the same time, creating something new with this version, but unfortunately, it falls flat in comparison.
The imagery used in both movies ushers in the haunting, tense impression that we all expect from Jacob’s Ladder. For example, subways play a large role in each film. Perhaps the intention is for the viewer to experience the dark, claustrophobic, isolated, underground, introverted the way that Singer feels. When I see wire fences, I can’t help but think that this is a representation of mental illness and the caged feeling pouring from the film. This is an aspect of both movies that I love. It is clear that the new director has put passion into the film and was not simply regurgitating old scenes and scripts. Yet I, as a viewer, needed more.
This version does contain a different twist than the original, thankfully, and also represents the trauma of war in veterans suffering from PTSD in a way that is concurrent with what we’ve learned about the disorder since the original’s release in 1990. I was not able to find information on what the budget for the 2019 film was, although the original was $25 million. The new version was originally shot in 2016 and is finally being released, so this has been a long time coming.
Would I say that Jacob’s Ladder (2019) is worth the trip to the theater? No. Not for me, at least. However, if you are into some creepy graphics and suspense, you may find it worthwhile. The new version of Jacob’s Ladder will be released August 23rd, 2019.