OOM #19 – Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

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Let’s continue with the October Overlook Madness, as this day we tackle one of those movies that I’ve been wanting to see practically since my cinephilia started. This is a movie from my list of horror films, continuing from yesterday’s film that was also released in 1990, that I’ve yet to see because the Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness decided to tackle ‘Saw’ (2004), which I like quite a bit and I’ve seen at least twice, and the video discussion makes a great case for it, so you can watch it here. So, for all of you I’ll get to this movie that maybe has inspired a lot of the things that I like in this world. Now, how much will I actually like it? Let’s see.

This is all that I expected to see, but a little less horrific than what I initially wanted. While much more grounded on a certain “reality”, at least that is the reality of the mind, this movie is impressive in its design, cinematography, editing and even acting and screenwriting. It’s one of those films that are so unique that it can’t possibly be compared to anything that predates it, and only can be held against the influences that it had in the media. When this was released it was almost universally panned, and it had no immediate repercussion, but with time its presence would start to permeate everything, from books to videogames to modern popular culture. I’m explicitly talking about how much elements from this film ended up in what is maybe among my favorite narrative and art experiences of all time: the Silent Hill series of videogames, and particularly, the first game Silent Hill, released in 1999, nine years after and nine years of accumulated experiences of bizarre elements that brought on what is still my favorite horror experience that I’ve ever had. I can’t remember being as scared as I was when playing the first game in my PlayStation, and I can’t help but feel warm inside when I see this movie and I see the elements that are beyond the pure automatic reference, it’s more like as if the movie was put in a blender, changed location, concept and context, and was poured on us as a frightening and personal experience.

All the elements are there: the search of a child (although in different ways), the doubt and limbo between life and death, the shaking heads from the monsters, the rusty ruins and places, the change of dimensions as a jump between realities that bring sense to the elements on the other side, scary doctors and nurses, disgusting bloody scenarios, the sense of dread and constant downward spiral of the character that can’t seem to ever win, the drugs that suddenly from the background jump to the foreground of the plot, the lighting and cinematography, the stairs and the thematic elements, as well as the monsters, the horrific monsters that suddenly come from nowhere to haunt our main characters. There’s even some elements about the ending that are mimicked, and thus it becomes something deeper and at the same time its own thing, as the foggy scenario of the videogame has become a aesthetic on its own right, as well as the mythos and the creatures that it originated, which at its own time where developed into a movie, ‘Silent Hill’ (2006), which I consider a masterpiece for reasons that we shall not discuss right now. With this movie, on the other hand, we see that while the horror and the dread is always present, this is above everything else a character piece, a film about Jacob Singer and his grief, his loss and his trauma after the Vietnam war.

What’s left to say about this movie would consist the territory of spoilers for those that haven’t seen it, and I hate when I read something and suddenly someone drops an entire plot point that I would’ve love to discover by myself. But I can say that the structure of this film is weird, and honestly I haven’t seen something like it in quite some time, where the change from past to present and between dimensions or realities, isn’t announced, as its the natural continuation, and while that is confusing, it serves the purpose of not only confusing the viewer, as it also eases the transition and the connection of ideas between differing points of view. It’s a movie that I would love to watch again in the future to see how it plays out without any kind of previous knowledge, which in itself is impossible, but without the added weight of being the main influence on the thing that I love so much.

9/10

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One response to “OOM #19 – Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

  1. Who woulda thought Adrian Lyne would be capable of such a film? It really burrows in deep and gets under the skin in an insidious way. Loads of nightmarish imagery that stayed with me for days after I first saw it and still disturbs me after all these years. I also find the angle about Vietnam soldiers being experimented on with drugs while there to be endlessly fascinating and one that the film doesn’t delve to deeply but tantalizes you with – just enough to make you want to do your own legwork.

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