JACOB'S LADDER (2019) / CERT: R (USA) / DIRECTOR: DAVID M. ROSENTHAL / SCREENPLAY: JEFF BUHLER, SARAH THORPE / STARRING: JESSE WILLIAMS, NICOLE BEHARIE, MICHAEL EALY / RELEASE DATE: 23RD AUGUST (USA)
Once again the Hollywood remake machine regurgitates another classic for contemporary audiences but botches every attempt to make it unique and invigorating. This predominantly drab and pallid “re-imagining” of Adrian Lyne’s brooding drug horror does at least try to deviate from the 1990 original, but does it so artlessly and with disregard to - or obliviousness of - what made Lyne’s film so compelling. Director David M. Rosenthal shreds Lyne’s striking style, substituting his urban goth / noir palette for a weak insipidness similar to that of a TV movie.
The remake’s story tells a similar tale of husband / father / doctor Jacob Singer (Michael Ealy) who is approached by a frazzled ex-army vet, Paul (Joseph Sikora), claiming to be a friend of Jake’s late brother Isaac (Jesse Williams). Paul tells Jake that Isaac is still alive, and leads him to a secret society of troubled ex-vets linked to a military-sanctioned drug called HDA. Jacob investigates, but soon starts experiencing intense hallucinations which warp his reality and make him distrust his once close friends and family.
Writers Jeff Buhler and Sarah Thorpe’s script courageously strays from Bruce Joel Rubin’s original, but through a frayed tale that wanes, vacillates and fails to align into an engaging narrative. This fragile foundation is an epic detriment that makes Rosenthal’s film discombobulate, maybe to put the viewer in the mindset of its protagonist, but whether or not that was the writers’ intention is almost irrelevant as this cessation leads to tedium, apathy and dazing despair.
The plot philanders with novel concepts but fails to utilise them efficiently. A conspiracy relating to Jake’s family intrigues but isn’t proficiently employed to convey the potent paranoia that permeated Lyne’s original. The characters are also not as complex or played as credibly as they were in 1990. Key sequences (one set on a train and another in an ice bath) are inelegantly replicated and feel enforced and wedged with a brazen lack of care and élan.
Jacob’s Ladder ('90)'s ominous air was a key component to its nightmare surrealism working so well, and made weird scenes with monsters and demons more tangible. For director Rosenthal to not retain that, or replace it with something equally distinctive, is an unpardonable blooper. The lack of dynamic visual prowess or teeming menace which made the original so terrifying is patent, as Rosenthal and the writers fail to fashion an apt vision or captivating story. Like the remakes of Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Flatliners, Jacob’s Ladder languishes as a flat and flaccid re-imagining that regurgitates clichés, prunes surrealism and so dispassionately detaches itself from Lyne’s original that it seems wrong they share titles.