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With: Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams, Nicole Beharie, Guy Burnet, Karla Souza
Written by: Jeff Buhler, Sarah Thorpe, based on a story by Jake Wade Wall, Jeff Buhler, and on a screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin
Directed by: David M. Rosenthal
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence, sexuality and drug content
Running Time: 89
Date: 08/23/2019

Jacob's Ladder (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Rung Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This remake of the 1990 psychological horror movie makes a half-hearted stab at changing up the story, but in the end, it just feels listless, without the disturbing existential scope of the original.

In Jacob's Ladder, Jacob Singer (Michael Ealy) served as a medic in Afghanistan, where he was unable to save the life of his brother. Back home, he works as a trauma surgeon in a VA hospital, and has a happy home life with his wife Samantha (Nicole Beharie) and their child. A strange man approaches him and informs him that his brother Ike (Jesse Williams) is still alive.

Jacob tracks him down and finds that he is addicted to an experimental drug called HDA, which apparently helps block out painful memories of war. He brings Ike back home, but soon begins experiencing his own weird hallucinations, and before long he has no idea what is real and what is in his head. Can Jacob figure out what's going on before it's too late?

The original Jacob's Ladder (1990) had a kind of interior quality, wherein the events felt as if they were happening to the character, like a nightmare. The remake feels mainly exterior, as if all the shocks were set up as jump scares aimed at the audience, rather than the character. As a result, Ealy can only react to things, and never manages to find an emotional center to his character; he's just constantly concerned.

Making the characters African-American was an admirable idea, and adding a brother to the mixture was too, if only there had been more of a connection. The two men don't seem to have ever even met before. Weirdly, in the role of Ike, Williams seems like the more dynamic actor; perhaps it would have been more effective if the actors had switched roles.

Then, Jacob's Ladder tries for a drastically different denouncement as well, a totally different conclusion to the story. But, whereas the original's ending works dramatically and emotionally, this one falls short. Again, it feels external, meant for shock purposes, and attempted without any concern for the characters or their inner logic.

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