This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This is a horror film that manages to grab you both by its mysteriously creepy content and its harrowing visuals.
In essence this film is, to me at least, an oppressive and bleak depiction of purgatory. Through a perfectly paced script, we are slowly drawn into Jacob's increasingly weird world, riddled with disturbing hallucinations and paranoia. We are never told explicitly why the things that happen, happen and I love it all the more for it. Up until the very end that is, where we are handed a possibility, one I interpret to be a religious one. Because we see Jacob dying, everything that we have been shown thus far is thrown into a completely different light.
In the bible Jacob sees a ladder in a vision that leads to heaven. With such a reference in the title, it is too obvious to be ignored. This film's Jacob is a transient spirit whose corporeal form has died but that holds on to life. He has visions of his dead son, who is called Gabriel, yet another biblical reference. He also has flashbacks to a previous life with another woman, which could be interpreted as his real, earthly life.
There are a lot of references to good and evil, angels and demons (most notably in a wonderful scene with the fantastic Danny Aiello), which, combined with references to occurrences Jacob was part of in the Vietnam war, lead me to believe that it is as of yet undecided whether Jacob's soul deserves redemption or eternal damnation. It is up to you, the viewer, to decide as we are not given a clear answer.
This is a very intelligent film that takes no prisoners. It is horrific and doesn't shun vagueness to enhance the experience at the expense of clarity. Robbins is excellent and is surrounded by a very strong cast, but the true star here is Lyne. The visuals he manages to conjure up are as stunning as they have been influential on later films.
This film can be enjoyed on a lot of levels and leaves a lot of room for interpretation without being annoyingly vague.