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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Review: Jacob's Ladder (2019)

Director: David M. Rosenthal 
Screenplay: Jeff Buhler and Sarah Thorpe
Year: 2019

Synopsis: After the death of his brother in a mission, the soldier and surgeon Jacob Singer returns home to his wife and newborn son. A year later, Jacob receives the news that his brother is alive and in the city where he lives. The news worsens his symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and leads him to have visions that blur the line between what’s real and what’s not.

Can “Jacob’s Ladder (2019)” be considered a remake of “Jacob’s Ladder (1990)”? They are both psychological horror films (though the 2019 version is more a thriller than a horror movie) that follows war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (or is what it seems), and the 2019 version imitates some scenes from the 1990 version. Besides that, you could make some mild modifications, and these would be two completely different movies.

In “Jacob’s Ladder (2019)”, Jacon Singer, interpreted by Michael Ealy (“Takers”), is a surgeon working in Afghanistan for the United States Army. After discovering that one of the mortally wounded soldiers he attended to was his brother, Jacob’s return home to his wife and newborn son assuming that his brother had died. A while later he receives the news that his brother is alive and in the same city where he lives, which triggers panic attacks, paranoia, and the inability to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

Did “Jacob’s Ladder (1990)” needed to be remade? For this, the best answer is, why not? and a better question would be if this remake does justice of the original. “Jacob’s Ladder (1990)” was not a box office success, but it received a wide cult following and its bizarre imagery inspired other works in the horror genre, being the “Silent Hill” saga of video games the most prominent one, considered by many to be the most frightening horror video games to reach the consoles. This puts a lot of weight over the shoulder of whoever decides to remake this movie.

In this case, it is director David M. Rosenthal (“The Perfect Guy”) and writers Jeff Buhler “Pet Sematary (2019)”, “The Prodigy”) and Sarah Thorpe who decide to take on this duty. Clearly, this group didn't knew how to interpret the work of Adrian Lyne and Bruce Joel Rubin, the director and writer of the original version, respectively. While the 1990 version sees Jacob Singer fighting to discover the reason of his disturbing visions in a complex but fluid script, the 2019 version sees the same character with the same motivation, but hopping between different topics, resembling more several stories put together in a movie rather than a coherent script made to explore different topics.

Where it does try to pay homage to the original is in the disturbing imagery, where the 1990’s version was so successful. However, this is another part in which it fails. The visuals are not as impactful as those in the original and many are presented as jump scares which are rendered ineffective because of the lack of tension. Also, there are scenes in which it imitates the original, as the bathtub filled with ice scene, but most feel forced and not well aligned with the plot.

To answer one of the questions laid out at the beginning of the review, this new version of “Jacob’s Ladder” is not even close to doing justice to the original. It’s not expected for a remake to be a scene by scene copy of the original, but it was expected that this version would have the essence of what popularized Lyne’s version but fails at recreating it and what it tries to imitate is does so poorly. If you consider it as a movie that has nothing to do with the original, it still doesn’t make a good job. The plot development feels like several stories put together without much coherence and, while the cast does a good job, most of the characters have no relevance beyond moving the plot from one place to another, making it impossible for the viewer to care about them. Instead of being complex and surprising, it ends up being incoherent and forgettable.

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