Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Genres - Drama, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Psychological Thriller, Supernatural Thriller  |   Release Date - Nov 2, 1990 (USA)  |   Run Time - 115 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Too dark and obscure to connect with mainstream audiences, Jacob's Ladder earned a devoted cult following based on its bizarre hallucinatory visuals and terrifying story of a Vietnam veteran apparently suffering a mental breakdown. The New York City inhabited by Jacob Singer is at first just a few degrees away from normal, but the differences make the viewer's flesh crawl. As he's exiting a subway, Jacob notices that the homeless man lying across the seats has a reptilian tail that slithers out of view; later, a nurse drops her cap to reveal a horn-like growth that is clearly inhuman. Whether these and the more extreme images that follow are figments of Jacob's henpecked imagination is open to audience interpretation. Although the film ultimately offers a satisfying explanation for the wartime mishap and subsequent demonization of Jacob's life, screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, who scripted Ghost the same year, is clever enough to leave things open-ended. Director Adrian Lyne's ease with special effects, never previewed in such prior outings as Flashdance and Fatal Attraction, is that of an experienced horror director. The hospital/mental ward/afterworld purgatory he brings to twisted life near the end is both difficult to watch and impossible to look away from. Though all the supporting performances are strong, Tim Robbins has never been more nakedly emotional as the star of his own unrelenting nightmare.