by Brian McKay
Good psychological horror is hard to find - and it's especially surprising to find any in the resume' of director Adrian Lyne, who brought us such fluff as "Foxes", "Flashdance", "Indecent Proposal", and most recently, "Unfaithful". Somehow, he not only stumbled upon a gem like "Jacob's Ladder" but actually made it into a great film. One of the most disturbing films of the past decade, it has influenced several other works - most notably the "Silent Hill" series of video games, which, like this film, are some of the most frightening and unsettling works of their kind.Tim Robbins plays Jacob Singer, a postal worker with a master's degree in philosophy who also happens to be a Vietnam Veteran. It has been a few years since he came back from in-country, and is now living in New York with his girlfriend Jezzie, (the unconventionally sexy Elizabeth Pena, who for some reason spends a lot of time naked in this film). One night, as he takes the subway home, he begins to experience terrifying visions of faceless, shuddering "demons" that seem to be following him. These monsters are, without a doubt, some of the most disturbing things you've ever seen in a horror film, and they just get creepier-looking as the film progresses. These are not "monsters" in the traditional Hollywood sense, however. These vague and shadowy figures leave just enough to the imagination to touch upon a kind of instinctual fear.
"This ladder only goes down . . . STRAIGHT TO HELL!!"
Afraid that he may be losing his mind, Jacob finds clues that lead him to believe that his visions may in fact be hallucinations caused by Army chemical weapons testing during the war, with a batallion of "friendlies" serving as gineau pigs - Jacob's batallion. The more he tries to investigate, however, the more he sees the "demons", and brings down other forces upon himself as well - like shadowy "government" men who look and act more like mafiosos. But things don't quite add up. Are his visions merely chemically-induced hallucinations? Or is he truly being pursued by demonic forces?
Somewhat reminiscent of a David Lynch film, Singer also begins to jump between alternate realities. One minute he is with Jezzie. The next he is back with his ex-wife, who we have previously been told divorced him several years ago. The next he is back in the jungles of Vietnam. Which reality is the "real" one, is the puzzle that both Jacob, and the viewer, must solve.
The cast does an exceptional job, Especially Tim Robbins, who made a bold departure from the eccentric comedy roles he had previously been known for (i.e. "Tapeheads") with this film. Pena is also very good as the longsuffering girlfriend who vacillates between concern for and irritation with Jacob's increasingly erratic behavior. Danny Aiello gives a strong supporting role as Louie, Jacob's Chiropractor who also serves as a spiritual guide.The film's tight pacing, and the meticulate building of its tense and macabre atmosphere, will draw you in. But what will stay with you is the creepy-ass imagery, especially moments like the Hospital basement scene. Should you have a problem with sleeping too well at night, Try watching this movie a few times, and then playing the Silent Hill games. Nightmares guaranteed.
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originally posted: 05/29/02 14:09:44