This movie has me mulling over a question about how I want to run this review blog, and about my movie watching experiences in general: do I need to see the original before I watch a reboot? Can I review a cheap and blatant rip-off/remake without having ever seen the original?
Yeah, totally. I’m okay with that.
That being said, after watching the 2019 remake of Jacob’s Ladder I watched the original the next day. You can call it due diligence, I call it wanting to know how badly this reboot shat all over the original. And lemme tell you, it absolutely did to the point that it might as well have been it’s own, yet still derivative thing.
The original Jacob’s Ladder is a psychological horror/thriller, simply put, about a man who is seeing demons and other strange things all around him. It’s not a subtle movie: several times people tell Mr. Tim Robbins that his character is dead, and (spoiler for a movie that came out in 1990) he is. Everything he is seeing is his mind/soul shedding itself of earthly trappings, and the demons are a sign that he’s resisting the process. I mean, a character bathed in a beam of light and referred to as an angel spells it out for him under the pretense of quoting philosophy.
The remake… decided to do its own thing for some reason. First off, the demons are all gone, so you can’t really call this a horror movie. For example, an early scene in the original had titular character Jacob seeing a homeless man with what appeared to be a tail or tentacle. The remake has a similar scene but it’s… trench rot on his foot. Two very different things. It also adds a new character in the brother Isaac, who is central to the plot.
2019’s Jacob’s Ladder really is a remake in name only. The main character is Jacob, he has a kid named Gabe (dead in the original, an infant here), he was in war and had a bad time, and now he’s hallucinating and questioning what’s real. But the twist here is that his perfect life is not his, but actually his brother’s. Instead of actually having been dead the whole time, here Jacob is a junkie who throws himself and a gunman out a window to save his brother. With all these huge changes, it’s no wonder the themes, tone, and ending are so different.
You know, I had this whole section written up about how this movie feels like a lackluster sequel, but it’s much more than that. I think this movie is the equivalent of the “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar!” line in 2014’s RoboCop remake. If you don’t know the original (either haven’t seen it or forgot the relatively pointless line from a relatively pointless character) this line comes out of nowhere and carries this weight that won’t make sense. And if you do know the original the line is a slap in your face, reminding you that at one point someone made the same movie you’re watching now, only good.
Too bad they couldn’t get a horror guy to write the Jacob’s Ladder remake… Wait, they got the guy who wrote the new Pet Sematary (where they killed off a different kid all in the name of being different) and the new The Grudge that nobody liked? Well too bad he’s never written a psychological thriller involving demons. Wait one more time, he also wrote The Midnight Meat Train? Fuck, okay then, too bad he didn’t give a shit anymore, I guess.
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