‘Army of the Dead’ and ‘Jakob’s Wife’: New genre movies to check out

MAY 29 — As we approach the middle of 2021, with the end of the pandemic still nowhere in sight and cases continuing to reach all-time highs this past week and the national vaccination programme nowhere near reaching the numbers that will put us closer to achieving herd immunity, I think it’s safe to say that most Malaysians are resigned to the fact that we’re very likely going to stay (mostly) cooped up at home at least till the end of the year.

Social activities, especially things like going to the cinemas and concerts, still look unlikely to be allowed to happen anytime soon, which means that home entertainment, whether by streaming movies or watching them on physical formats, will continue to be our main source of amusement and killing time for the foreseeable future.

With June fast arriving, the number of notable genre films on my list of watched films has been pretty healthy so far, and I won’t be shocked if most of the stuff already on that list won’t even make it to my end-of-the-year list because judging from how fast these things are released on streaming platforms, especially on Shudder, there’s always a good chance that some of the best genre films of the year are not even here yet. Just waiting for their turn to scare viewers in October, in time for Halloween.

I managed to catch up with a few new genre movies last week, and here are two that I think are worth checking out, even if one of them is a pretty big disappointment.

‘Army Of The Dead’ is a two-and-a-half hour action extravaganza that actually lives up to its title in the literal sense. — Screen capture via YouTube/Netfix
‘Army Of The Dead’ is a two-and-a-half hour action extravaganza that actually lives up to its title in the literal sense. — Screen capture via YouTube/Netfix

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Army Of The Dead

Starting with the aforementioned disappointment, 2021 has been quite a big year for Zack Snyder with all the (much deserved) hoopla surrounding the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League back in March, followed by another online campaign called #ReleaseTheSnyderPunch hoping to pressure the studio to release Snyder’s cut of Suckerpunch

So now comes his latest film, Army Of The Dead, on Netflix, a two-and-a-half hour action extravaganza that actually lives up to its title in the literal sense, only to botch its potential for greatness with its overlong running time that somehow fails to sketch out any of its characters beyond what we’d call “paper thin.”

There are some great and memorable stuff here  —  the awesome intro involving a military transport colliding with a pair of newlyweds (which leads to the release of the very dangerous “payload” they’re carrying), the ultra-cool opening montage set to a cover of Viva Las Vegas, the zombie queen and king, and some of its many action set-pieces  —  but at the end of the day, this just feels like a lazy blend of heist and zombie movies that had hoped to cover its deficiencies with Michael Bay-esque mayhem. 

And as much as I love me some Bayhem with the likes of Transformers or 13 Hours, this one just felt like a middle-of-the-road attempt at achieving that kind of magical insanity.

It’s not a total failure, that’s for sure, and that’s why I said it’s still worth checking out if you have the time and already have a Netflix account, because there are much worse ways to waste two-and-a-half hours of your time than watching this piece of action fluff. 

If time is a premium for you though, you might just want to skip this one.

Jakob’s Wife

I sought this one out solely because I liked director Travis Stevens’ debut film Girl On The Third Floor from a couple of years back, and anything that stars both horror icons Barbara Crampton (of Re-Animator and From Beyond fame) and Larry Fessenden (director of countless US indie horror classics like Wendigo and The Last Winter) must be at least of some interest. 

And how I was proven right, because what Stevens and co-writers Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland did with Jakob’s Wife presents to the audience a totally unique spin on the vampire genre. 

That classic vampire theme (you know, the whole transformative effect and power that you get once bitten by a vampire) is effortlessly and mischievously woven into a film that’s basically a commentary on marriage and the limitations that it places on women.

Crampton plays Anne, a very submissive wife of a pastor named Jakob, played by Fessenden, and the film opens with scenes showing the mundanity of her submissive life, as Jakob often cuts in and finishes her sentences whenever she tries to voice out an opinion, and plenty more things of that nature. 

A visit to an old factory leads to her being bitten by a vampire, and she finds herself exhilarated by all the changes she’s experiencing because of that bite, from her newfound thirst for blood to the more daring clothes she chooses to wear and being just far more assertive than she has ever been in her life.

Her husband, of course, is not so excited at this new development, and the film dances through this push and pull of power dynamics (which intertwines with Anne’s vampiric tendencies) with a delicious balance of humour and fear. 

Crampton and Fessenden are simply outstanding here, proving that if you provide great actors with enough meaty material to chew on, they’d repay that trust in spades. 

Playing a bit like Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage, but set in the world of The Hunger (or Fright Night), this is one heck of a genre movie; equal parts funny, dramatic and scary, and proves again that Stevens is a name to watch in the future.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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