Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

“Jacob’s Ladder” is one of those acclaimed movies that I somehow managed to avoid for some reason. Maybe it’s the portentous trailer, or the unclear nature of the storyline that never caught my attention, but I decided to casually watch it over the weekend and I was pleasantly surprised. Viewed through a modern lens, it often recalls the structure of “The Sixth Sense” or “Carnival of Souls” in order to heighten its core mystery, which leads to a series of genuinely frightening, striking images throughout the narrative (like the underground subway apparitions, and some downright Cronenberg-esque creature-effects that are just as disorienting and grotesque as “Videodrome” and “Naked Lunch”). Tim Robbins is well-cast as Jacob, a hyper-intelligent military veteran who has consciously settled into an unchallenging profession following wartime trauma suddenly finding himself followed by apparitions and haunted by dreams and hallucinations, and Elizabeth Peña is totally believable as his hot-headed, dedicated girlfriend who may not be all that she appears. Adrian Lyne’s directorial style approaches an MTV-level music-video aesthetic that’s surprisingly compelling, because it gives the narrative a fluidity that’s occasionally interrupted by the aforementioned glimpses of apparitions, which heightens the emotional impact that Jacob is experiencing. Ultimately I would say “Jacob’s Ladder” is a tad overrated, perhaps having to do with the passage of time, but it’s still a solid, worthwhile thriller with plenty to say about the American government’s disdainful, cruel hostility towards its own military.

Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)

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