I feel like I’m in the minority when it comes to remakes (or reimagining depending on who you ask). There’s always tweets and “think” pieces about Hollywood running out of ideas, but even the original material is a rip off of something greater from 30 years ago. I’m at an age where I’m seeing movies I grew up on becoming modernized. There are plenty of arguments to be made about messing with the original, but every once in a while a gem arises from remake hell. Alex Aja gave us an even more brutal taste of The Hills Have Eyes and we even recently got some social commentary on technology from 2019’s Child’s Play movie. There are now infamous disasters like A Nightmare on Elm Street or lesser-known versions of Martyrs, though granted it had no reason to be known. JACOB’S LADDER has landed the remake mark, but even after watching it, I still ask why.
Michael Ealy stars as Jacob, a military trauma surgeon who is now home for a year after time in Afghanistan. His brother, Isaac (Jesse Williams, Cabin in the Woods) was a soldier who died in the operating room. He now haunts Jacob, but strangers are coming in and out of Jacob’s life, insinuating that Isaac might still be alive. All these people look off and are questionable if they even exist. After all, it’s made quite clear that Jacob is not right in the head and is seeing things that are not there. We even get that shaky camera effect that the original made so famous. Soon, it becomes a question if there’s some kind of larger conspiracy going on against Jacob or if he’s just crazy after all.
One of the many reasons this iteration of JACOB’S LADDER doesn’t work is not even its own fault. It’s the simple fact that throughout all the years since the original, audiences have been treated to tons of psychological horror dealing with paranoia. The genre has outdone itself with these mental twists that it becomes a surprise if a movie doesn’t actually have a surprise at the end. Even if the original didn’t exist, this feels more of a compilation of jump scares meant to keep one awake from a fairly thin script. The big reason this doesn’t work is that the original truly felt like we experienced a nightmare with the lead character. It felt dirty, raw, and nauseating. The original Jacob’s Ladder has plenty of imagery that sticks with you way after the credits roll and still lands as one of the most creatively successful mind fucks of a movie, influencing franchises like Silent Hill.
Ealy and Williams both give their best here, but are utilized in a not so great movie. It’s amazing how much they actually look alike and their chemistry is undeniable. These two belong in a much better movie where audiences will demand more. Williams has always been one to watch, especially after winning fans’ hearts as the dorky nerd who happened to have a six-pack in Cabin in the Woods.
I’m sure there will be people checking this out of curiosity, but will be severely let down. There’s lots to be said about PTSD and the remake deserves credit for utilizing current political climate to tell its story. It just falls flat and doesn’t have that emotional kick needed for that kind of story. Psychological horror is a tough one to break through as many rely on a cheap plot device to wrap the story together at the end and, unfortunately, JACOB’S LADDER is guilty of doing just that. JACOB’S LADDER arrives in theaters and On Demand August 23, 2019.