Jacob’s Ladder, now this is quite the important horror, it was arguably the biggest inspiration for Silent Hill, one of the greatest horror series of all time. It took the traditional Vietnam war backstory and used it for what could be argued is many things, and exploration of PTSD, the battle of good and evil, religion or even the refusal of death. It is very much that which defines Jacobs Ladder, the symbolism and inherint meaning of it all, mixed in with a film that is edited so you feel as if you are in a fever dream.
The funny thing about Jacob’s ladder is the fact it kinda isn’t a horror. I mean sure the horror is there in spades during the initial part, and scattered throughout but it pulls attention away from that so much that during the latter parts of the film it feels more of a film which shuns horror for narrative. It does something most horrors don’t do, and allows you to again feel safe, to feel as if there is nothing inherently wrong in this film or scary. To its credit, it does pull you back in and scare you again but still the horror is just so sparse so don’t expect it to be a constant unsettling tense ride.
This is, as I said before, a film that makes you feel as if you are in a fever dream. The stories flow is very much confusing but in a good way. We never feel as if the film is not explaining out of laziness, everything feels put together is such a way that it makes enough sense to us but there if very clearly going to be something we are leading up too. The thing it leads up, in my opinion is quite a satisfying end. I know the film gets flak for its ending but without going into spoilers, in my opinion it ends the film in a fitting way.
The films high point is very much its symbolism and atmosphere, not surprising, considering the series it inspired (Silent Hill) very much excells in that too. The fever dream feeling is very well done. As I said before the sense of confusion is very much welcome and adds to the film. The symbolism as well is very much a welcome addition, keeping the film fresh for subsequent viewings as we realize what represents what, and it does all come together in a cohesive fufilling way, it avoiding the common problem with symbolism. That being the occasional problem of pretentiousness and lack of any genuine meaning from your symbolism, but this film does manage to avoid this.
Now the films low points are most certainly it’s acting, it’s not that its bad, in fact the main character is pretty good but it just feels so average. Nothing really sticks out in the film and the characters don’t feel like people really. It just feels stilted and stale. The effects for the monsters are also pretty outdated, not feeling too scary but again this isn’t really a horror so that arguably is unimportant.
The directing is quite lovely, it bringing across the fever dream feeling I am constantly harping on about. It really is its greatest achievement though, this feeling of intense confusion but also of wonder, of curiosity, of wanting to find out what is even happening at all. This feeling is typically avoided in horror, hell personally I’ve never seen a film that gave me such a curious wonder as this film did during the viewing of it. Of course this effect is slightly diminished after the ending but it is still prevalent.
Jacob’s ladder may not be a superb example of acting, it doesn’t use super amazing innovative cinematic techniques, it isn’t some smart auteur film. However it does make you feel wonderfully confused, as if in a fever dream, perhaps a bit simple in its ending, and even in it’s meaning, this simpleness though, at least in my opinion, doesn’t detract from its amazing atmosphere, which alone makes this film worth a look.