Horror-Drama Jakob's Wife Takes a Look Inside a Tortured Marriage

SXSW world premiere looks at life's second acts

In horror circles, Travis Stevens is best known as the producer of horrors like Starry Eyes and the director of SXSW 2019 chiller Girl on the Third Floor. Yet while his new film, Jakob's Wife, plays as part of this year's SXSW Midnighters, his touchstones were less grisly. "I wanted to do a movie like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, or A Woman Under the Influence, or An Ummarried Woman – those stories about a woman in the second stage of life, battling against a relationship that feels restrictive."

In Jakob's Wife, that stifling bond is between small-town pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) and his wife, Anne (Barbara Crampton). As the title suggests, Anne's identity has become completely subsumed by her role as a spouse, but a strange event upends that confining status quo and opens up new possibilities – for both of them.

Crampton and Fessenden is one of those pairings that seems so obvious that it seems odd in hindsight that it never happened before. They have appeared onscreen together before – in another of Stevens' films as a producer, We Are Still Here – but not as a couple. Having seen them together and separately, Stevens knew they would be perfect as the aging couple, as each carries the tag "genre veteran" with honors. A seemingly tireless actor, director, writer, and producer, Fessenden has been an indie horror fixture since his debut feature, Habit, in 1982. As for Crampton, she is a ubiquitous presence in the scene, starring in three features last year alone. Yet she knows something about second acts. The star of Eighties schlock gems like Re-Animator and From Beyond had actually retired from acting completely in 2007, only to be lured back in front of the camera for 2011's home invasion classic You're Next. Stevens observed, "There was a meta-level for what she was going through in her career as an actor, but also the fact that she wants to move strongly into producing relates to what Anne's transformation in the movie is – not just that she felt constrained, but that she said, 'Hey, I want to do something about it,' is really wonderful, both professionally and for the character. I saw that, and thought it was the perfect movie at the perfect time for her, and [that's] why it was so exciting for me."

Fessenden is in his own second act of sorts. Initially a writer/director, in recent years he has achieved an almost totemic reputation among indie horror directors (there's an old joke that killing Fessenden in your movie brings you good luck), but he's also a generous collaborator behind the camera. Stevens said, "Larry, with what he brings as a filmmaker and his understanding of how to keep people's spirits up, was just insanely helpful."

But it was putting the duo together – in a joust that evoked other great onscreen couples like Ellen Burstyn and Kris Kristofferson, Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, or Jill Clayburgh and Alan Bates – that reinforced Stevens' casting choice. "The pairing of what Larry brings as an actor, and what Barbara brings as an actor, these are really strong primary colors and it was really nice to paint with each of them."

Jakob's Wife


World Premiere

Available from 8pm, March 17

Death Do Us Part: A Jakob's Wife Discussion, March 18, 8:30pm

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

South By Southwest Has a New Investor
South By Southwest Has a New Investor
With 50% ownership in SXSW LLC, P-MRC provides “lifeline”

Kevin Curtin, April 18, 2021

SXSW Film Review: <i>When Claude Got Shot</i>
SXSW Film Review: When Claude Got Shot
Documentary goes beyond the headlines of Black-on-Black crime

Shane Pfender, April 7, 2021

More by Richard Whittaker
Alex Garland's <i>Civil War</i> Will World Premiere at SXSW
Alex Garland's Civil War Will World Premiere at SXSW
Eagerly awaited thriller stars Kirsten Dunst, Nick Offerman

Feb. 22, 2024

Austin FC Season Kickoff, Black History Month, and More Community Events
Austin FC Season Kickoff, Black History Month, and More Community Events
Get out and about in Austin while the weather's good

Feb. 23, 2024


SXSW 2021, SXSW Film 2021, Jakob's Wife, Travis Stevens, Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Midnighters

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle