Written and directed by Larry Wade Carrell
In another recent review I pointed out that one of the best things about attending conventions is discovering new things. Good cons, like this year's Texas Frightmare Weekend, are great places to watch films that you'd otherwise never get to see. This year's con saw around 20 films screened over the entire weekend, but out of those one definitely stood out with the attendees: Larry Wade Carrell's Jacob.
Jacob is truly an independent film. Created primarily by a group of friends, some of whom met at previous Texas Frightmare Weekends, it is a labor of love that has transcended to become something else entirely. I missed all but the last few minutes of the film at the show due to a scheduling conflict, but based on word of mouth and the general buzz following the screening, I secured a screener from writer/director Carrell to view once things calmed down.
I couldn't have been more surprised by this film.
Jacob tells the tale of the Kell family in the small fictional Texas town of Melvin Falls. Mostly set in 1979 other than a pair of modern bookends to the tale, the film shows what happens when the mentally simple and disturbed teenager Jacob Kell snaps after a tragedy.
Given the marketing for the film, and the previous film from Carrell and his production partner Stacy Davidson's Odyssee Pictures, Sweatshop, I expected a slasher. That's absolutely not what I got.
This film reminds me of the original Carrie more than anything. For most of the runtime we're shown the people in this town and a series of bad decisions made by them collectively and individually regarding the Kell family. As viewers we can see what's coming, but we're unable to stop it. Just like with Carrie White; we know she's doomed, and the town is going with her. So many chances to stop it, so many chances to avert disaster, overlooked or blown because of selfishness, fear, or stupidity.
When that disaster strikes at the beginning of the third act, much like Carrie's prom, all hell breaks loose. The building blocks we've seen making poor, massive Jacob into a walking machine of destruction come together in a string of violence and a high body count.
Yes, I just said the violence only really kicks in during the third act. Expectations are important here. If you are looking for wall-to-wall blood, you'll do well to look elsewhere. This is a drama with an intense climax. As a drama, considering the budget and conditions involved with making this film, it's incredibly effective. Fantastic performances from Grace Powell as Jacob's only friend and sister, Sissy, and Dylan Horne as Jacob himself make this more than just another "killer retard" story. You feel sympathy for the Kell kids, even when it becomes clear that there's an evil working in Jacob beyond rage and vengeance.
Director Carrell plays dual roles as Deputy Billy and his no-good, drunken lout of a brother, Otis. He pulls off both roles well, although he's more convincing as Otis. Otis is the film's true monster, and it's his actions and the town's refusal to put a stop to him that are to blame for the chaos to come.
Genre fave Michael Biehn shows up for flashbacks that show how things began to go wrong for the Kells and where the seeds were planted for the horrors inflicted on the town. As always, he's great in the role, and these flashbacks provide a foundation for the characters of Jacob and Sissy that could easily lead to more films with them.
The other major surprise for me is how good this movie looks. Cinematographer Stacy Davidson pulls off some gorgeous shots in this movie. It looks better than any 10 horror films with bigger budgets you'll find on Netflix Instant. It's just a gorgeously shot film, which gives the drama extra weight.
The film is far from perfect. Some performances, such as Leo D. Wheeler's Sheriff Andy, needed to be turned down a notch. There's some scenery chewing here. Another performance that's just unfortunate is a character who is critical to the supernatural mythos of the plot, an old lady named Lady Elizabeth, played by Karen Schlag. There's a pivotal scene with her and Deputy Billy that is weakened because of her performance. That scene needed to drive home the supernatural nature of the threat to the town, and the tone of her performance throws off the feel of the scene. She's fine every other time we see her, but that scene with Billy doesn't have the gravity it deserves, which is a shame.
Another issue is a victim of the fantastic quality of the film image: On Blu-ray the age makeup seen in the intro to the film doesn't hold up. In previous generations it'd be fine, naturally hidden by the lack of clarity in the image. But in full HD, lit by sunlight, it leaps out as age makeup done on the cheap.
Neither of these issues derail the film, although they'll likely keep it from showing on 2,500 screens nationwide. That being said, the film overall is light years better than most of the direct-to-video stuff I run into on Netflix Instant and in Redboxes. It looks better and has a much better story and even better gore FX and kills once the blood starts running.
There's no damn reason why this movie shouldn't be picked up by a major distributor considering how little it cost and how good it is despite that budget. What's more, as I mentioned before, the flashbacks and the finale of the film leave the door open for a franchise featuring Jacob and Sissy. By the time the film is over, we have a brand new, completely original supernatural slasher with a deep and interesting background to rival all the great film slashers. We need to see more as the dark forces manipulating Jacob and Sissy unleash further terrors on Melvin Falls.
Right now there's no way for you to see this movie outside of film festivals and cons. Hopefully that'll be fixed soon enough. You should see this movie; it represents the best of Texas indie horror. Until then, stay away from any broken down houses in the woods, and if you see a young girl enticing you to follow her into the trees, run for your life... Jacob could be waiting.
4 out of 5