Ghouls tackle what was a promising film about a pastor's wife discovering her feminine power through a transformation but instead finds a film that fails to deliver any empowerment at all. Instead, this film half-heartedly features a monstrous femme, a problematic couple, and a lot of unnecessary BIPOC deaths.
Sources in this Episode: https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/vampire-history
Media from this week's episode:
Jakob’s Wife (2021)
Anne, married to a small-town Minister, feels her life has been shrinking over the past 30 years. Encountering "The Master" brings her a new sense of power and an appetite to live bolder. However, the change comes with a heavy body count.
Directed by: Travis Stevens
Jakob's Wife: White Feminism & Missing Girls
by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
I tried to find a film to fit our theme of Monstrous Femme and vampires. It was a struggle. We’ve already covered Queen of the Damned in our Anne Rice episode, though it doesn’t quite fit because it doesn’t feature Aaliyah as our protagonist on a journey to self-discovery, awakening, or anything else empowering. She’s the villain. We already covered BIT which would’ve been really fun to do in this series. And I thought about covering Vamp with Grace Jones but, like with Queen of the Damned she is not the protagonist and she does not speak a single word in the film. So, ultimately, I discovered Jakob’s Wife, the title like Jennifer’s Body drew me in. This is clearly a film about a woman who’s autonomy has been taken from her, her voice, and her power. My hope was that she would get all those things back after her monstrous feminine awakening but am sad to say, she simply does not. Instead, we’re left with a film that starts strong, loses the thread in the middle, and comes out with a muddied, complicated, rather un-feminist ending that left so much to be desired.
Jakob’s Wife follows Anne Fedder (played by the talented Scream Queen, Barbara Crampton) and her pastor husband, Jakob Fedder. Our first glimpse into Anne’s life is one of solitude. She sits in the pews as her husband delivers his sermons. She stands by his side as he greets their congregation. She is verbally petted as a good wife. She remains silent though we can see her instinct to intervene, to have an opinion, to be anything more than the wallflower she’s been rumbling beneath the surface. Later, when it is revealed a young woman from their congregation has gone missing, her husband and friends assume the girl has simply run away, an impossibility in Anne’s mind. Throughout the scene that urge to speak continues to bubble up and as a viewer, the tension tugs at you each time she is spoken for or talked over. She opens her mouth to defend this young woman and in her hesitancy loses the opportunity, others continuing on as if she weren’t there. When she finally does speak, it's jarring to the guests and her husband. Who knew Anne had opinions?
Anne is working with a group to save and renovate an old, historic mill. Her husband dismisses this as a hobby, surprised she exists outside of him. He shows no interest until he learns that one of the people helping her is an old flame. He is hesitant for her to go, he isn’t so unaware of their loveless/sexless/all-less marriage to know the temptation this would be for Anne but he knows his Anne would never. She’s a good, God-fearing wife.
She meets this old flame and he plays with her. Reminding her of “old times” when she used to be fun and wild, she was going to run away and live in a foreign country. What happened to fun, Anne? You know the one: young and with endless opportunities in front of her? Surely, she didn’t grow up, settle down, and live her life responsibly? Here we learn that Jakob had been there for Anne during trouble with her mother’s health. He was stable, reliable and kind, so of course she settled down. But now, she doesn’t know if it was worth it. As viewers, we want Anne to leave too. Anne and old flame sneak off to the old mill to do some location scouting and chemistry scouting.
What they don’t know is that this mill is the current home to The Master, an ancient vampiric being that has set up shop in their small, decaying town. Anne is turned and thus starts her journey into monstrous femininity. However, this journey, though at times empowering for Anne, fumbles with that independence, autonomy, and self-respect we wanted her to find in the end. My hope in watching was that she would become Anne in the end, shrugging off the identity of Jakob’s wife for good.
A Lack of Autonomy
I was really expecting so much more from a film titled, Jakob’s Wife. In the beginning, I could see where the film was considering to take us and I was excited. Churchwife Anne turns vampire and awakens the strong, independent woman within and takes back her life. That’s what I wanted. There are moments we are teased with this possibility. After being turned, she feels violated, changed, and aware of this different person she is becoming. She wipes away the blood and suffers alone, not wanting to bother or perhaps not feeling comfortable/safe enough to share with Jakob. In the morning, she looks in the mirror and she sees herself. She examines herself, her body, her being. And she begins to appreciate this woman, the power she has within her. These moments of joy, self-discovery, and pleasure are bright parts of the film. Seeing Anne drinking blood from a wine glass, listening to music, and rearranging the furniture in her house is fun. Her private moment with the Master is exciting and you root for her, you yearn for her to actually experience pleasure for once. But so much of that is undermined by the story and plot.
Jakob learns of his wife’s transformation after finding her devouring their neighbor’s corpse. (Which was delightfully gory - she ripped his head off!). There are comedic moments of relief, like here where she says, “It wasn’t me!” after Jakob finds her lapping up his blood to which he replies, “Of course it was you!”
The problem with Anne’s awakening is Jakob. When she becomes more confident in herself, the woman who once found the red lipstick too sexy to wear to a dinner, is now wearing low cut dresses, red lipstick, and styling her hair in a new way. Jakob picks up on it but he hates it. She used to be predictable, she used to be how he made her. The Master tempts Anne throughout the film, reminding her of her innate power, her passion, her right to be pleased and desired. But time and time again, she chooses Jakob. This man, who will never trust or appreciate her fire and strength. He does not like her. And he still feels he’s the protagonist. When they decide to go kill the Master, he forbids Anne to go. He continues to rob her of her autonomy, over and over again in the film. All the way up to the end, where he kills the Master for her. The Master explains to Anne that he only chooses specifically people to turn, that they aren’t subservient to him and that he wants to empower them. He tells her that Jakob will never accept her (true) and that she is better than him (also true). But before she can make the decision to accept this power or kill the Master herself, Jakob yet again steals her ability to choose and kills the Master himself.
The disappointment I felt every time she chose Jakob. The lackluster and awkward sex feeling like complacency from Jakob and the consistent settling of Anne on Jakob made the film a hard watch. Though I enjoyed the gore and absurd horror of the practical effects, I was so outraged by the lack of empowerment and growth for Anne.
White Woman Victimhood:
Other than the failure to live up to the promise of its name, the plot that seemed so obvious yet never revealed itself, there was actually an entirely different issue I had with this film. If we are to see Jakob’s Wife as a tale of feminism, then it is very specifically, white woman feminism.
Each and every peripheral POC character in this film is done wrong. Amelia, the young church girl who takes care of her mother is the first victim in the film. This was already an issue that almost had us turning off the film. In 2021, there’s no excuse to make a black character the first victim. Besides that, I hated how dismissive Jakob was to Amelia right from the beginning, he clearly has no care for her as a human but only sees her as another face amongst the congregation. When she is missing, they assume she’s run away. I can’t help but believe that were Amelia white, the town would be scouring the world to find her.
In Season three of You, there’s an episode titled, Missing White Woman Syndrome where it’s revealed to Joe that by killing and disappearing a white woman in a suburban neighborhood, he messed up because the world would bend over backward to find her. It’s made more impactful in the show in that the person who explains this to him is Tati Gabrielle, a young Black woman. In You, this is a discussion about the misrepresentation and the disproportionately significant attention white women and girls receive in the news when they are missing versus the incredibly underreported and undermined missing person cases for BIPOC women and girls. There are entire documentaries, podcasts, and organizations dedicated to shining light on this issue. In our ways to help section, I will include many of those organizations and initiatives focused on finding missing BIPOC girls.
But in this dinner scene, the intent here is for you to feel bad for Anne. She is being talked over and dismissed. When she does speak up, she is met with confusion by her peers. Here she is a hero, sticking up for a young girl. You may see a white feminist, speaking out against injustice towards another woman and trying to use her privilege as a white woman to get their attention. But this shifts completely when the film decides to put her experiences first and villainize the very person she was defending.
Amelia is a vampire. Jakob encounters her in the mill while antagonizing two young teens who are just out to have fun. Amelia, though her fight is clearly with Jakob, then murders one of the teens, Oscar. Amelia taunts Jakob, Exorcist-style. She is empowered and happy with this self-discovery. Amelia was the feminist story I was looking for in Jakob’s Wife but instead, she becomes fodder for the Fedders. Later, when seeking out the Master, they run into Amelia who Jakob ends up murdering. There is so much wrong with this whole situation that enrages me. For one, they wanted to kill the Master to “free” Anne, so by that logic, they could’ve saved Amelia too. Amelia is a young, vulnerable woman and very much a part of their community. Amelia, who Anne defended just days before is now too far gone. Because Amelia isn’t playing her role the way she was supposed to anymore. So much can be said about the treatment of Black women, the expectation of certain behaviors, and the policing of their pain and emotions. When a white woman is angry she is heard but when a Black woman is angry she is being unprofessional, she is aggressive. How could you miss all these undertones, Travis Stevens?
Amelia is a black woman cut down for being too aware of herself, for finally feeling comfortable in her skin. Eli is a young, Black girl who goes to the police after her friend, Oscar (a latiné person) is murdered. She is dismissed because she has a record. The evidence clearly points to Jakob doing shady things but the police still don’t give her credit for it. The neighbor Anne eats in a frenzy after he came to check on her well-being and is named Naveed. A young Black girl witnesses these two white people stealing a body and putting it into their trunk and she is calm, cool, collected, and made into an uncomfortable joke. She says she won’t tell on them if they tell her a curse word to which Anne tells her to fuck off. How uncomfortable for a pastor’s wife of a clear majority POC town to curse out a young Black girl while stealing a body right in front of her!? Even the butcher at the Supermarket doesn’t report Anne for literally only ordering blood which is an incredibly reasonable time to call authorities to give them a heads up about this weirdo, instead, he keeps it to himself. There’s no way the police would listen to this Black man over the story of a white woman, who mind you is later found draining someone in her home.
This film fails to give us the feminist arc we were looking for and while half-heartedly doing that also manages to completely abuse and misuse BIPOC bodies. If you’re going to make a film about a white woman finding her power at the expense of and on top of black and brown bodies, then at least give her autonomy in the end. No one wins in Jakob’s Wife. I think it’s safe to say this is a no for the Ghouls.
Historical Atrocities Blamed on the Vampire
by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
*gasp* could it be? That the Vampire has similar themes to that of a succubus, and werewolf?! Unshockingly, Vampires, like other monstrous creatures exist to represent societal fears of people acting outside of societal norms. They are a literary, and cultural tool to dissuade individuals from acting in certain ways, fear those who do, and ultimately ostracize the other. What was disappointing about this film is that it didn’t present anything new or especially interesting to the idea of the vampire, and maybe it wasn’t trying to. Vampires can be a great tool for representation, in that monsters in film, literature, and other media often are coded to represent the other and push back against oppressive forces or reinforce them.
When approaching the monstrous feminine there are so many opportunities where the presentation can act as a commentary on feminism and intersectionality, and this film, unfortunately, missed that opportunity entirely. It felt very early 2000s, despite the fact it was made in 2021, in that it was a film that had lots of BIPOC characters but didn’t give any of them the autonomy, depth, or power that was afforded our protagonist Anne. Instead, it used them as fodder for this white woman, who ultimately only cared about how the patriarchy impacted her directly. It also really bothered me how she achieved her power, as it was achieved through cannibalizing the BIPOC characters in her town as a means to stand up to her white man husband while simultaneously benefiting from his status, and pull with the local police force. The approach was really tone-deaf, and that is clearly shown in the murder of Amelia, who is just as much dealing with her newfound vampirism but is viewed as less worthy of surviving in the eyes of Anne, despite the fact that are facing the same oppressive force. Anne starts the film by expressing very performative worry for Amelia, only to quickly jump to demonize her and dismiss her personhood as soon as it is inconvenient. The film continues to follow Anne, in her journey of centering herself, as she actively murders and hurts the BIPOC men and women around her for her own gain. The film ends as a muddy and grossly unaware representation of white feminism if I’ve ever seen one. It is likely, however, that I go into films expecting a lot more intention and thoughtfulness when sometimes fun is the only real goal of the director and writers. My disappointment with this film likely stems from my lens going into it, in that I expected better. The film really positioned itself as if it might do something interesting, taking a stance against the oppressive patriarchal religious space, but did so carelessly and without actually saying anything especially meaningful. Oh well…
The Monsterous Femme can be used as a tool to challenge oppression. The use of the vampire has been used in media by both the oppressor using the monster as a way to demonize, as well as the oppressed taking that monster back as a point of catharsis and healing. While this film didn’t really achieve either, we have watched some fun vampire films that maintained a level of wit and awareness, such as Bit, Vampires in the Bronx, So Vam, and others. When discussing the Monstrous Femme, and monsters in general it’s important to recognize what can classify someone as a monster.
How does one be dubbed a monster by society? It’s simple really. You exist outside the domestic space, monster. You exist outside the 9-5 daylight hours, monster. You exist outside the heteronormative, monster. You exist as a confident sexual being, a monster. You exist in your skin, and that skin is not white, monster. I could go on and on because societal othering creates the idea of the monster and that can be applied to so many different things and is largely influenced by social trends. The result is to literally just exist, as your authentic self, is a threat to all those who don’t, and the superficial societal constructs will dub you a MONSTER because that’s easier than changing the system. It’s also unfortunately been used as a tool throughout history to justify countless atrocities done to those others, be it through witch and werewolf trials, wanton assault and murder, or ostracization. Today we’re talking about vampires specifically though, so here are some facts.
According to History.com “There are almost as many different characteristics of vampires as there are vampire legends. But the main characteristic of vampires (or vampyres) is they drink human blood. They typically drain their victim’s blood using their sharp fangs, killing them and turning them into vampires.” We’ve seen many renditions of the vampire throughout the film and literary history. There are vampires that sparkle, that can’t be in the sun, that can be in the sun but only if they consume enough blood, the forever fun “let’s subvert” the usual understanding of a vampire where all the things you think they’re weak against actually do nothing. The way vampires are represented in media is similar to the way vampires are represented in history and are often used to explain things that people may not understand. The understanding of vampirism in the Middle Ages surrounded the spread of the plague. This stemmed from a lack of understanding surrounding the ways in which viruses spread, as well as the ways the body decomposes. There are instances of illnesses that impact one's ability to be out in sunlight, such as porphyria that were misunderstood and deemed vampirism, because of the skin reaction to the sunlight. “Some symptoms of porphyria can be temporarily relieved by ingesting blood. Other diseases blamed for promoting the vampire myth include rabies or goiter.” Vampirism was also used as a scapegoat for various horrific historical events, used as a reason for plague deaths, bad luck, and even literal serial killers among other things.
Throughout history, there are references made to vampires that viewing with hindsight and scientific perspective seems less than realistic, but that’s really most things. The history.com article goes on to outline whether or not Vampires are real. “Vampire superstition thrived in the Middle Ages, especially as the plague decimated entire towns. The disease often left behind bleeding mouth lesions on its victims, which to the uneducated was a sure sign of vampirism. It wasn’t uncommon for anyone with an unfamiliar physical or emotional illness to be labeled a vampire. When a suspected vampire died, their bodies were often disinterred to search for signs of vampirism. In some cases, a stake was thrust through the corpse’s heart to make sure they stayed dead. Other accounts describe the decapitation and burning of the corpses of suspected vampires well into the nineteenth century.” Similar to zombies, the fear here is with things that are dead, coming back to hurt you, as well as things entering the living plane that ultimately shouldn’t be here anymore. The existence of vampires themselves, directly challenges the Christian understanding of the afterlife. The fear of the undead, demons and other areas surrounding death practices is something that is oftentimes motivated by Eurocentric thinking. My partner Isaiah brought up a really interesting point, that these fears could also stem from a fear of accountability for actions. He mentioned that the fear of vampires and zombies, specifically in terms of Christianity could stem from a fear of the atrocities committed in Christianity's name coming back to haunt them. In thinking of colonialism, imperialism, and other isms that were committed by white Europeans/Americans, etc., it’s not a stretch to think there may be a subconscious fear that one day there will be a collective vengeance that might force one to atone for those sins. That the millions murdered could come back for vengeance for their unjust ends. Or even, someone who has lived through the horror of everything that is humanity, all the atrocities that have taken place, and can out that history for what it actually is. My point here is ultimately to highlight the fact that this fear of the undead, and the living dead is not universal, and that relationships with death and ancestry are very different across cultures and around the world.
The other side of vampire representation is less about the fear of vampires and more about the allure of the idea of the vampire. The power of being a vampire and escaping the shortsighted human experience. That being a vampire would be a point of power for those who have been victimized by systems of oppression, enacting that vengeance and vigilantism. Vampires provide a pathway to power, in that they have the strength to them. There are those who want the vampire experience because of a lack of power they feel in their own lives. A lack of belonging they feel within society and that there is this allure associated with the freedom being a vampire would create. Thinking of Bit, and how the goal of the vampire collective was to kill gross awful men that preyed on women. There is also a power associated with the monstrous feminine when it comes to being sexually free, as well as free to live openly. Freeing oneself from the oppressive patriarchal standards and gender roles. Owning your sexuality because no one can really tell you otherwise. There is an allure associated with escaping death, escaping the trap of societal expectations, and existing outside of societal pressures and horrors. The freeness of being a vampire makes the simplicity and shortsightedness of the human experience seem so frivolous.