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Jacob's Ladder (2019)

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Jacob's Ladder (2019) Movie Poster Image
Violent remake skips character in favor of shocks.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No clear messages here, except for perhaps a suggestion that war is extremely damaging to a person's psyche and that drugs aren't always the answer.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters here are largely victims, and mainly suffering and reacting to things, although some appear to be trying to be helpful from time to time. Diversity in casting.

Violence

Bloody, gory surgery scene. Violent war flashbacks. Guns and shooting. Blood sprays. Large pool of blood. Strangling, choking. Bodies dragged off. Bombs and explosions. Punching, fighting. Fall from high window, with bodies crushed on pavement, blood pools. A character has a seizure, foaming at the mouth. Character pushed in front of train. Scary/horror images and noises. Jump scares.

Sex

Somewhat graphic sex scene includes thrusting but no nudity. A character kisses her husband and climbs on top of him, straddling him while clothed. Prostitute with partially naked bottom, cleavage shown. Prostitute flirts with a character.

Language

Several uses of "f--k" and "s--t." Also "p---y."

Consumerism

Budweiser beers shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Veterans are shown to be habitual users of experimental drugs, to help ease their anguish. Shot of drug being injected. Cigarette smoking. Characters drink whiskey at a wedding and are shown staggering drunk. Spoken reference to characters with drinking problems. Casual beer-drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jacob's Ladder is a remake of the same-named 1990 psychological horror movie. It tries to do a few things differently -- including diversifying the cast -- but it still feels mechanical and lifeless. Expect plenty of blood and gore, including surgery scenes, blood sprays, and pools of blood, plus guns and shooting, fighting and punching, strangling, explosions, several scary images and sounds, and jump scares. A character has dreamlike sex with a prostitute; there's thrusting but no nudity beyond a partially naked bottom and cleavage. A character kisses her husband and climbs on top of him, straddling him. Language includes several uses of "f--k" and "s--t" and a use of "p---y." Veterans are shown to be habitual users of experimental drugs, and an injection is shown. Characters smoke cigarettes, and there's some drinking, at least once to obvious excess. Michael Ealy stars.

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What's the story?

JACOB'S LADDER focuses on Jacob Singer (Michael Ealy), who served as a medic in Afghanistan, where he was unable to save the life of his brother. Back home, he works as a trauma surgeon in a VA hospital and has a happy home life with his wife, Samantha (Nicole Beharie), and their child. Then a strange man approaches Jacob and tells him that his brother, Ike (Jesse Williams), is still alive. Jacob tracks Ike down and finds that he's addicted to an experimental drug called HDA, which apparently helps block out painful memories of war. Jacob brings Ike back home but soon starts experiencing his own weird hallucinations -- and before long he has no idea what's real and what's in his head. Can Jacob figure out what's going on before it's too late?

Is it any good?

This remake of the 1990 psychological horror movie makes a half-hearted stab at changing up the story, but in the end it just feels listless, without the original's disturbing existential scope. That movie had a kind of interior quality that made the events feel as if they were happening to the character like a nightmare. The new Jacob's Ladder feels mainly exterior, as if all the shocks were set up as jump scares aimed at the audience, rather than the character. As a result, Ealy can only react to things, and he never manages to find an emotional center to his character; his Jacob is just constantly concerned.

Diversifying the characters was a welcome decision, and adding a brother character to the mix was, too -- if only there had been more of a connection. The two men don't seem to have ever even met before. Unexpectedly, in the role of Ike, Williams seems like the more dynamic actor; perhaps the movie would have been more effective if he and Ealy had switched roles. Jacob's Ladder also tries for a drastically different conclusion to the story this time around. But while the original's ending worked dramatically and emotionally, this one falls short. Again, it feels external, meant for shock purposes, and attempted without any concern for the characters or their inner logic.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Jacob's Ladder's violence. How did it make you feel? How did the movie achieve this effect? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • How is drug use portrayed? What are the drugs used for? Are they being abused? Are they glamorized? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • How does this remake compare to the original? What changes were made?

  • Hoffman makes addictive experimental drugs but claims he's trying to help the veterans. Is he a bad guy, a good guy, or somewhere in between? Explain.

  • What does the movie have to say about war? Is it respectful to veterans?

Movie details

For kids who love thrills

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