ORIGINAL VS REMAKE: Jacob’s Ladder (1990) vs Jacob’s Ladder (2019)

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these articles, as the last one was about Pet Sematary (1989 vs 2019). I know some of you guys asked me to write an original vs remake about the differences between the original and the new Child’s Play, but I opted for a straight review of the Child’s Play remake due to the amount of bad aspects featured in that movie.

Now, as one of the most unnecessary and unwanted remakes of the last decade just came out (straight-to-DVD and VOD…), it’s time to reintroduce this format and take a look at the original Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and its modernised remake, Jacob’s Ladder 2019.

Continue below to read my double-feature review: 

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My review is also available on IMDb – Jacob’s Ladder (2019)

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JACOB’S LADDER (1990) – review [ SPOILERS! ]

Nearly 3 years ago I reviewed this film but, since I don’t really like my article from back then, I’m going to briefly explain why the original Jacob’s Ladder is a flawed classic.

Directed by Adrian Lyne (Flashdance, Fatal Attraction and Lolita), Jacob’s Ladder stars an amazing Tim Robbins in the role of Jacob Singer, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from PTSD. Back home from Vietnam, Jacob attempts to uncover his past and, to do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusions, and perceptions of death.

Through the developing of three main storylines constantly intertwined with each other (Jacob in Vietnam, Jacob dating his former secretary Jezzie, Jacob divorcing his wife Sarah after having lost their youngest son), this film unfolds as a psychological horror/drama that leads to one of the most shocking (and, at the time, new) plot twist in cinema history: (big spoiler!) at the end of the movie it’s revealed that Jacob died in Vietnam and what we see on screen is a compilation of memories, hopes, nightmares, uncertainties Jacob experiences right before he passes away.

This film is a powerful character study of a man, perfectly portrayed by Robbins, and a poignant message about PTSD. The original Jacob’s Ladder benefits from some truly disturbing sequences that are all the more effective due to the surreal tone, great acting all-around, next-level cinematography and camera-work. The sparse use of music helps setting the tone and, in hindsight, clarifies the emotions Jacob was going through in the different scenarios he remembers. Set design and colour palette are extremely fitting, although they didn’t age very well.

Speaking of the passing of time, the main problem with this movie is that it looks dated now, in terms of camera movements and editing choices. Also, part of the plot is dedicated to a conspiracy theory revolving around experiments carried out on soldiers who suffered from PTSD: while intriguing and well-crafted, this storyline takes away the attention from the very real problem of PTSD soldiers are often affected by after war, everywhere in the world.

Regardless of its imperfections, Jacob’s Ladder is a fantastic psychological horror film that manages to combine scary moments with touching parts, disturbing imagery with grounded issues, surreal tone with hyper-realistic message. It’s a great piece of horror cinema that influenced quite a few movies ever since it was released (Shutter Island, The Ward, Patient Seven…)

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)                                  8/10

JACOB’S LADDER (2019) – review [ MINOR SPOILERS! ]

On the contrary, the 2019 remake is an embarrassing pile of dogshit no one should have the displeasure of witnessing. For once, I’m glad horror fans and movie critics agree on how terrible this movie is, as you can see from the images below

Let’s start from the beginning, though. 2019 Jacob’s Ladder applies a few changes from the original plot: the trauma of Vietnam is replaced by the Afghani war; Jacob (Michael Ealy) deals with a different tragedy, as his brother Isaac (Jesse Williams) returns from war carrying along sever issues; the twist is quite different from the one in the original.

The first three sequences of the 2019 remake of Jacob’s Ladder are all you need to watch to understand why this clumsy attempt at a real movie fails.

The opening scene features a stupid jump-scare with noises added in post-production and it’s accompanied by jarring editing and embarrassingly loud rap music (the filmmakers must have thought that rap music was fitting because the actors are African-American… Jeez!); this nauseating opening replaces the nail-biting, immersive first scene of the original movie, which was just perfect. The second scene in the remake, which takes place in the Afghani desert, consists of bad ADR, the same obnoxious score and an awful colour palette with terrible light exposure. The third scene is just a gory operation to save a soldier: it’s tasteless, it doesn’t add value to the movie, it’s poorly shot and edited.

I could pick apart every single scene in the Jacob’s Ladder remake in a similar fashion, but I guess you got the idea. 95% of the sequences in this awful flick are directed badly, feature awful choices, are painfully unscary and ineffective.

To spare you the pain of reading through the critique of every sequence, I’m just going to list everything wrong with Jacob’s Ladder 2019: the over-reliance on cheap and fake jump-scares proves the filmmakers have a fundamental lack of understanding of the genre, let alone what made the original movie a classic. Unnecessary gore and graphic content are, also, poorly shot with the constant use of shaky-camera and flashy lights. The constant flashbacks to a war scenario come off as jarring and confusing, without adding anything worth praising about the story or the mystery. With the exception of one performance, the acting in the movie is atrocious; the dialogue is cringeworthy and, paired with subpar performances, gives this remake a made-for-tv feeling. Cinematography and colour palette throughout the whole picture resemble that dated, early-2000s schlocky look and feel; the camera-work is dull and uninspired (aside from two shots I could point at as elements of quality); the sound-design is incredibly off-balance; the editing is kindergarten-level.

All of that is what makes the Jacob’s Ladder remake a truly awful movie, but what’s really insulting is the moral of this film. The original movie delivered a poignant message about PTSD, whereas the remake turns it into the shallow concept of “drugs are bad, some evil doctors sell them and use people as human guinea pigs”. This is, basically, the message of a generic horror b-movie that sacrifices integrity, coherence and filmmaking qualities for the sake of cheap twist. In retrospect, the ending of this remake doesn’t make any sense as most things in the movie don’t add up or, simply, can’t be justified by the final twist. Everyone involved with this remake (including the people responsible for the atrocious trailer and the ones who designed the uninspired, third-grade-level poster) should be embarrassed.

In this pile of crap, however, Jesse Williams’ performance (as Jacob’s brother) shines as one of the very few redeeming aspects: he manages to give relatability to such cringeworthy dialogue and, during a specific dinner scene, his acting and delivery is quite impressive. Also, as I said before, there are two shots early on in the movie (one outside of the hospital, one in the subway) that are visually interesting and benefit from purposeful camera angles. However, everything else in Jacob’s Ladder 2019 is so bad that leads me to believe these minor positives were achieved by chance, that they weren’t even intentional.

Jacob’s Ladder (2019)                                  2/10



Remakes like this are the reason why people don’t want popular horror films to be remade. Despite the original Jacob’s Ladder having room for improvement in a thoughtful and passionate modern reinterpretation, the remake we got was barely an attempt at capitalise a recognisable brand: an attempt that’s devoid of any mild competency and, most likely, any passion or understanding of the original film.

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