Jacob’s Ladder, a remake of the 1990 horror-thriller starring Tim Robbins, is a perfect example of why some stories are best left in the past. By transplanting the setting to the modern day and attempting to make the story stand on its own, the film loses touch of what made the original special in the first place.
Much like the original movie, this film focuses on a veteran returning home from war who struggles to keep his sanity while experiencing visions. However, unlike the first movie, which actually had to say something about the way in which the military treated its veterans, this seems like little more than attempt to cash in on goodwill from the original and a concept that is still pretty spooky.
The most frustrating thing about this film is that they didn’t really explore the ethical implications of military experimentation to the full extent. Although it is clear the movie wants to be something different, that is what made the original so interesting. So, if the filmmakers are going to get rid of the commentary from the original, the least they could do is add something new to the mix, and they fail to do so.
Additionally, the film simply isn’t suspenseful enough. The original really rides off of paranoia and slow burn tension to create a sense of dread and unease within the viewer’s mind. This movie resorts to grotesque (but not disturbing) imagery and jump scare tactics. As such, this ends up feeling more like a cheap knock-off rather than a full remake.
The only true success in this film’s script is that the character development is mostly solid. Jacob is a very compelling protagonist, and even though it is easy to suspect where his arc is going to end, especially if you have seen the 1990 version, his struggles with PTSD are a storyline with which it is easy to sympathize.
Michael Ealy does a good enough job in his leading role. His performance isn’t the most complex or impressive, but he has all of the characteristics of a solid leading man. He may not have been the best fit for the role — he isn’t entirely believable as an Afghanistan vet — but somehow, he is able to beat that mismatch and give a likable turn.
Visually, the movie is ambitious, but it doesn’t hit most of the swings it takes. Although some of the film’s attempts to be “disturbing” do look pretty good, the movie fails to create that surreal and nightmarish feeling that is so important to the success of this story. In the original film, we are following the protagonist’s descent into insanity, and in this movie, we are just watching it as an outsider.
Inferior to the original in every way and unable to prove the need for its existence, Jacob’s Ladder turns a complex thriller into a by-the-book horror film. The only good that could come out of this remake is if people decide to watch the original as a result of seeing this one.
Jacob’s Ladder hits theaters and VOD on August 23.