Michael Ealy stars as Jacob Singer in the new, glossy remake of the 1990 psychological horror film Jacob’s Ladder. Ever the capable leading man, he acquits himself well in the titular role, portrayed in the original by Tim Robbins. The film’s casting is one of its strong suits, but where it falls short is in its many divergences from the original and in areas that give it a far less gritty feel and more of a TV movie sheen.
Jacob is a VA hospital trauma surgeon in Atlanta, after having served a stint in the Middle East. Overseas is where he lost his brother Isaac (Jesse Williams), the victim of enemy fire, or so he believes. He never saw Isaac’s body after treating him for his violent wounds, but as far as he knows, his brother is dead. That is until he is led by a former unit mate to the depths of the city’s subway tunnels and discovers his brother alive. Isaac is not the same though, as he sees terrifying, otherworldly visions that defy reason. He is also hooked on the Ladder, a shelved experimental drug administered to servicemen with PTSD, that has horrific side effects, including the aforementioned visions. Jacob must get to the root of who is now behind the drug and its distribution before he loses his grip on reality and becomes the monster he sees now, around every bend.
Ealy and Williams believably portray brothers, who despite their prior battles over Jacob’s now-wife, still have a strong fraternal bond. They would do anything for each other, which explains Jacob’s investigations into the corners of hell that he unquestionably throws himself into, on his brother’s behalf. Nicole Beharie, most known for the TV show Sleepy Hollow, plays Jacob’s wife and is the voice of reason, as both brothers are far off the reservation, in terms of their mental state, in the movie. And in a very small role, Power’s Joseph Sikora impresses as a creepy sage, leading Jacob down the Rabbit Hole, as it were.
Director David M. Rosenthal, who worked with Ealy on 2015’s The Perfect Guy, does a workmanlike job at the film’s helm. The movie he has crafted is efficient and well put together, but one you might expect to find as a television feature, rather than on the big screen. If one were to flip past Lifetime or BET and find this version of Jacob’s Ladder, I imagine the viewer would be hooked until at least the next commercial break. I personally want more though, out of films that play in theaters. This critic was reminded of the Screen Gems-produced horror remakes of about a decade ago, like Prom Night or The Stepfather, that were entertaining enough on their own, but did not stand up to comparison with their original versions, flawed as they themselves were.
This 2019 remake of Jacob’s Ladder has many plot changes that take away from the dark, nihilistic nature that the original had in spades. For fans of that work, it might be best to leave well enough alone and avoid this new take. If a moviegoer is unfamiliar with the 1990 version though, some entertainment can be found with this new form, and fans of Michael Ealy will undoubtedly enjoy his work in it.
Recommended if you liked: The Perfect Guy, The Intruder, No Good Deed
FINAL GRADE: C+
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