Sunday, July 13, 2014

MR Jacob's Ladder

When you think "mature horror", this is the only real film you should always refer to.

"The most frightening thing about Jacob Singer's nightmare is that he isn't dreaming..."

Movie: Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder or simply Jacob's Ladder
Directed by Adrian Lyne 
Release date 1990
Genre Psychological horror
Country USA

Here's a dark surrealist motion picture!

Back when people dared produce psychological horror films. A genre that has sort of been explored during the late 1980s and all the way through the 90s but barely any more seen outside little independent productions nowadays.

In fact it's a genre barely even explored anymore now. (And I can't think of any other modern mainstream example besides the much later M. Night Shyamalan's film The Sixth Sense in 1999, which itself could be only compared to that in a loose sense of the term)

The first that come to mind to an extend or another are probably David Lynch and David Fincher - both having explored psychological horror in their body of work. Most of those sorts of films have really been influenced one way or another by Adrian Lyne's "Jacob's Ladder". Which is probably his best and most different film he ever did. A film responsible for creating an entirely new genre on its own.

Jacob's Ladder is a great terrifying deep movie about reality. And duality. 

It's the kind of movie that leaves you thinking in confusion, with feelings of sadness. And despair.

A very innovative film for its time. With numerous little details put into every single frame. Playing with the audience, turning the film into an actual real maze on screen, leaving the audience doubting reality.

The story follows a Vietnam War veteran, still morning a dead child and haunted by memories of the war. Trying to decipher reality and life from his own dreams..

It makes us, the viewers, actively participating in our protagonist's tale. Finding clues. There's actually several possible angles to interpret this story.

It's a very effective film that makes you empathetically feel this depressing experience with our main character.

It's a beautifully directed and well acted experience.

Tim Robbins plays this obsessed main character, a man seemingly loosing his mind. The rest of the cast gives just as great a performance including our leading lady Elizabeth Peña playing this exotic woman with whom our character tries to forget his past. Other notable roles includes a young Macaulay Culkin and Jason Alexander (George Costanza on Seinfeld!!). 

Our story appropriately opens with our protagonist reading a book, which is The Stranger by Albert Camus (basically, a man awaiting to be executed reflecting on his past life - how àpropos).

Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a Vietnam vet, an American soldier back home. Who seems to have gone through a shocking experience during his time in the war. After all these years, he still can't be completely sure what happened back there.

Years have gone by. He seems to have passed now a PhD but doesn't really use it, working for the US Postal Service. After a first failed marriage and he had son killed in bike accident on the road, he's now living with a different woman he just met in New York City.

Jacob Singer seems to be going back and forth about his present life, his past life between his prior happy life back with a family and his time in the Vietnam war.

And he doesn't have clear memories of Vietnam. Back in 1971 he was a US soldier. Then one day his unit went under heavy fire... Since that day he's been haunted ever since by nightmares. It feels like he's losing his own mind, trying to escape from something he quite can't figure out and understand what is happening to him. What happened to them back then that fateful day.

Lately he's been having hallucinations, he feels like he's now cheating on his past memories with this new life of his, this new woman Jezebel (Jezzie for short) he's dating. One night coming back from the Subway in Brooklyn (when the movie starts) he thinks he started seeing some kind of demons... Is that only post-traumatic stress disorder? Or something.. worse?

He's still riddled with guilt for losing his son Gave from his previous wife Sarah. Feeling remorse from his current new life, which seems to be fading for his past memories coming back after receiving some photographies, and these hallucinations of demons lurking in every corner of his reality.

What is real and what isn't?

The demons start invading every moment of his life as his life appears to escape from him. One night at a party he goes into shock as he sees girlfriend Jezzie having sex with demonic creature, another time he's being run down by a car driven by demons and he goes under an hellish fever almost killing him... And then there's the horrific time he spends in an hospital who seems closer to hell near the end of the film...

Our a war divorced veteran doesn't even see the two surviving children he had from his past marriage. He starts seeing these monsters everywhere.

Jacob tries making contact with some of his former friend from Vietnam only to find out he's not the only one slowly losing his mind. 

He investigates a bit to find some kind of government conspiracy, there was a sort of experimental drug called "the Ladder" which was test on his squad. Named that way because it provided a "fast trip straight down the ladder", used as a means to channel the soldiers' primal fear into anger, to turn them into better killing machines... And they actually killed each other apart that night! 

His old doctor was killed in a car explosion. So was one of his veteran friends. With the others they try to open a case against the governments, but the other victims decide to drop the case.

The story is told very effectively through flashbacks the entire film. The faceless demons are great and very creepy, yet never truly displayed on screen.

The film simply has a perfect atmosphere. Just the subway at the beginning of the film perfectly capture what is about to follow. Calm and yet creepy. Hanging lights making the simple scenery of a subway station feel insecure, water dripping on the floor. It sets the mood for the rest of the film. Or also the cult creepy scene in which Jacob sees his girlfirned sexually ravaged by some kind of monster-demon, you only get a few glimpses here and there, never quite making out the creature, a wing here or a tail there. And let's not forget the very powerful hospital which has become a classic by itself, that stays with you hours following the film.

Jacob's Ladder leaves the viewer as haunted as Jacob. It's a very powerful film about the Vietnam war as a whole and Vietnam vets back from their traumatic experience as well (which can be seen in the film in the form of how Jacob's old vet friend are seen and treated when trying to find some help). Never fully reintegrated back in society, growing apart from reality. There's a whole government conspiracy-tone that only helps make this more a complex film, with layers and layers of thematics built over the deep narrative.

Then there's also the film's title, a  reference to the biblical tale of Jacob. This "Jacob's Ladder" was about a place between Heaven and Earth, or also Heaven and Hell. Which relates to our movie in several ways. Is our Jacob actually already dead and stuck in Purgatory? Did he even made it out of Vietnam? Is he dying from hallucinations? Despite the direction the story takes in the end, nothing is ever that clear. A title card right before the credits seems to actually mention and confirm that there actually were testings of a drug being run during the war (which the Pentagon supposedly denied).

Jacob's Ladder is a beautiful haunting tale.

The film features some light yet stunning special effects.

Pure horror come to life in this definitively mature horror story, through flesh and bloody hospital corridors.

The director actually had to cut down about 20 minutes of film which were originally way more disturbing but didn't go well with test audiences...  

I really admire the way Adrian Lyne decided to represent these demons. Never truly exploited on screen for the sake of shock value. Lyne wanted to try mimicking and replicating the effects from renowned painter Francis Bacon which provided the film with these blurry "shaky head movements" by simply filming people shaking limbs captured on low frame rate-cameras and then played back in reverse in fast motion. And it looks simply as eerie and surreal as it should.

The film features a superb ending, an intelligent philosophical film with many layers and meanings. About a desperate mind trying to rationalize the irrational.

It's a fantastic film, where nothing feels quite real, yet it's still very much grounded in reality.

Adrian Lyne manipulates the audience into thinking along Jacob. We're all stuck with him in the middle of a ladder with two possible outcomes.. Be it sanity and insanity. Or the hard truth or the more pleasant lies. His past or his future. Or simply Heaven or Hell.

Should he accept he can't go back to his former life or go for the much more safe hallucinations?

Is Hell tormenting him with the hope he can get back to his former life?

And the film provides some more scientific-based rational answers regarding this experimental drug "The Ladder", this powerful hallucinogen.  

The flawless musical composition was made by Maurice Jarre who perfectly blends electronic and acoustic elements. It's as odd, off-putting, creepy and yet familiar as the narrative. Jacob's Ladder's score has been an inspirations for many horror pictures since then as well.

Sadly the film was only moderately successful at the time of its release. But it quickly went on becoming a huge cult phenomenon and has inspired many generations, becoming the source of many later modern psychological horror films.

Overall, it's one of the better more cerebral horror films out there.

A Highly Recommended cult movie which went on inspiring a lot of horror through different mediums all the way through the 1990s to this very day. Such as the Silent Hill video game series or even David Lynch's own surrealistic films such as Mulholland Drive first and foremost, and even a lot of metal music videos and bands. Its stunning and great imagery which lingers in your mind days following watching it having been a huge influence on themes and the atmosphere of the Silent Hill series usually even directly referenced in most of the original games.

On another note, it has been sadly announced recently that yet another classic is about to be messed up once again. Hey, Hollywood, how about simply making new classics for a change?.. No?.. Sigh...

This beautifully filmed depressing classic is about to be remade as well thanks to The Midnight Meat Train screenwriter Jeff Buhler along the rest of the producers also responsible for the 2011 remake of Fright Night. They announced this new story will supposedly be an homage, and not just trying to mimic the original (a spin-off/sequel of sorts then? because that worked so well with Donnie Darko's S. Darko, right?). Featuring a new contemporary story, new characters and a new situation while examining similar issues. Same title, new story. Sounds to me more like a "reboot " then, in Hollywood terms. To be honest I already fear the worst...

I give it:
3 / 3 Necronomicons!

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