Jacob (Michael Ealy) is a former Afghanistan war medic who suffers from PTSD, which is exacerbated by the fact that he saw his brother Isaac (Jesse Williams), also a soldier, die on his operating table. In his current job at a veteran hospital, he bumps into guys who are on HDA, also known as “the ladder,” a drug that temporarily relieves PTSD symptoms but causes addiction and frightening hallucinations, and ultimately, death. Jacob is thrust into a government cover-up and finds out that Isaac is still alive. But the nightmare is only just beginning.
I’m a fan of the original 1990 film, and plug for my review goes here. But I’m not out to compare them in terms of quality. The themes are a bit different. The original had heavy religious connotations, and this one mostly gives those up in favor of focusing on the PTSD angle. The plight of veterans not getting the care they need after the war is highlighted both overtly and symbolically, like when Jacob goes to the police after seeing an informant get pushed in front of a train. The cops tell him that it was a bag of garbage, not a person. The pain of PTSD is a major plot point, shown by the veterans’ need for HDA as “the only thing that helped.” Isaac likens his emotional struggles, the “memories I can’t get rid of”, to being in hell.
In a welcome change from the original, Jacob doesn’t have a dead angel-son. In this movie, Gabriel is alive and well and an adorable baby rather than Macaulay Culkin. Jacob isn’t divorced but married to Samantha (Nicole Beharie, who is no Elizabeth Peña, but was absolutely riveting in Apartment 4E–see it!). Really, my only gripe is that in the switch to focusing on paranoia and the horrors of war, the whirring heads and creepy images from the original are completely underused here. However, some of the shots are absolutely breathtaking, like the recreation of the bathtub scene from the original: Jacob is running a fever and has to be put in an ice bath. Here it’s Isaac who gets the bath, and the slow-motion scene when he raises his head above the water is spellbinding; I can’t remember the last time I was so taken by a beautiful shot.
I wouldn’t say it’s an absolutely necessary remake, but it’s gorgeous and thought-provoking. The performances are terrific. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something creepy but also action-y.