Veterans have it tough, not only on the battlefield but even when returning home, with many having to face drug addiction and increasing psychological issues from dealing with the harsh demands of warfare. In 2019, The terrors of war, and the fallout from dealing with those trepidations once again fuelled a disturbing odyssey for one such veteran and his attempts to return to his wife and family, in the remake of Jacob’s Ladder.
Combat Medic, Jacob Singer, has come out of a gruelling tour of Afghanistan, his brother, Isaac, died in combat and Jacob is struggling to adjust. Although he has found a use for his skills working for the V.A. Haunted with strange P.T.S.D., he gets some experimental new medication from his pharmacist. That is until he gets word that his brother might not be dead after all, and he might be unwittingly involved in a deep conspiracy lurking deep underneath the New York Subway tunnels. Jacob will have to survive a harrowing tour of instability, as he attempts to get to the bottom of the events that plagued him since returning.
In a move to be different, Jacob’s Ladder focuses more on the conspiratorial aspects that were suggested under implied messages in the original. That’s not to say that the film does not have any spooky imagery or metaphysical ideas, far from it, as religious imagery, and scary P.T.S.D. manifests themselves in an eerie combination frequently. The audience also gets some insight from his time in the sand-swept battlefields of Afghanistan, and these are doused with a sandy-yellow filter. Giving the memories of Jacob an almost video game quality, or like that of a dream. As the film is filled with a tonne of creepy ideas, and imagery, you might get your fill, even if it doesn’t surpass the psychological excursion of the original.
Sure, it would be hard to emulate the terrifying spectacle that was the original film, but the 2019 remake lurches at some of the same subjects from both a different perspective and a different approach. It makes for a refreshing change to have a remake that isn’t a beat-for-beat recreation (intentional like Psycho or otherwise), and the likes of Tim Robbins leaves a big role to fill. Here we have Michael Ealy as Jacob, and Nicole Beharie, who recently starred in Black Mirror’s Striking Vipers. Even behind the scenes, we have Jeff Buhler who you might recognise from writing the remake of Pet Sematary, another 2019 remake.
The 2019 Jacob’s Ladder, despite being a pretty competent remake, has a lot in common with the 2000s Manchurian Candidate. Both have tough acts to follow, and both added a tinge more of the conspirational elements, or at least twist them enough to be novel. It has become more than a cliché at this point, but the whole affair does feel more like a Twilight Zone episode, especially with the reveal at the end, but a different outing to the original is welcome. In the end, Jacob’s Ladder still keeps a lot of the hallmarks, but remixes them in new ways, to become a remake that ascends all conventions.
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