Starring Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings
Written by Keith Cooper
Directed by Justin Dyck
Grief is mercurial and infinite. Past and present, grief ferries us to our lowest lows as we grieve for what we’ve lost and what we’ve not yet had. It alters our very biology, changing neural networks in ways once thought impossible, unique little pathways of neurons like the beasts of the Shimmer, impossible to explain yet so very present and real. Grief drives us to do things we never thought possible, and in the case of Shudder’s latest, it drives one couple to do Anything for Jackson.
In Justin Dyck’s Anything for Jackson, bereaved couple Audrey and Henry Walsh (genre veterans Shelia McMarthy and Julian Richings) dabble in a little bit of Satanism, kidnapping a pregnant woman, Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos) in the hopes of using her unborn child as a vessel to bring back their deceased grandson. Equal parts Clive Barker nihilistic hellscape and David Cronenberg body horror, Anything for Jackson is what might manifest if those two filmmakers joined a Satanist cult and conjured a demonic spirit of their own from the depths of Hell. Intermittently scattershot and unfocused, Anything for Jackson is nonetheless a genre triumph, a more than serviceable descent into the darkest recesses of grief and back again.
Just as Orpheus descended into Hades and looked back, sentencing his beloved Eurydice to an eternal underworld, Audrey and Henry routinely underestimate the scope of their ritual, and though their grandson “showed himself to Shannon… he’s coming back to us,” the gate that welcomed him also allowed every other ghost in purgatory to pass through. Like its central, acrobatic demonic antagonist, Anything for Jackson morphs and contorts itself in so many different ways, it can be difficult to get a handle on what kind of movie it’s trying to be. Shades of A Dark Song and Pyewacket’s commitment to grounded ritualism color the opening vignette of kidnapping and resurrection, though the movie soon shifts, like the vagaries of its inciting grimoire, to a modern day The Sentinel, with demons of all kinds besieging the property, driving anyone unfortunate enough to enter to suicide– to dispose of their physical bodies and consume their spiritual core.
Unfortunately, Anything for Jackson is at its weakest in these moments. While the design work is stellar– the contorting demon is truly one of 2020’s greatest movie monsters– scenes are too dark to really see what’s going on, and after the first assault, it becomes clear that these monsters pose no threat to either Audrey or Henry, beyond startling them with a jump scare or two. Moreover, while the point-of-view is bold– the movie is chiefly told from Audrey and Henry’s perspective– it saps a great deal of tension from the second act. Even if either of them was in any legitimate danger, there’s no audience sympathy. As the third act begins, the movie wisely returns to Shannon, and the proceeding moments become something of a demonic cat vs. a pregnant mouse, and the tension of the early moments return.
Nagging questions remain, however, such as an inability to address key details– how, for instance, is this prominent couple openly attending satanic rituals at the community center– and an unsettled ambience. Anything for Jackson floats somewhere between quirky Midwest comedy and serious meditation on grief, doing neither quite as well as it could because of its insistence on the other.
Director Justin Dyck is like something of a reverse Bob Clark. Both are Canadian filmmakers who filled out their filmic roster with seasonal horror and recreative Christmas comedies in equal measure– Dyck is best known for directing several television Christmas romances of the Hallmark variety. Anything for Jackson is certainly a stark departure, though. Perhaps years of fluffy Christmas confectioneries perfectly prepared him for the horrors of demonic rituals and blood bound grimoires.
Anything for Jackson wants you to know that your doctors, your bankers, and your neighbors are probably Satanists. They might not be good Satanists, but they’re Satanists nonetheless. In the early going, Director Justin Dyck’s commitment to grounded verisimilitude casts a chilling spell, and the final act raises the stakes considerably, leading to a truly frightening demonic showdown. Material in-between is lackadaisical, unable to commit to a consistent tone or perspective, but sins are easily forgiven when bookended by sections this strong. Anything for Jackson is still a great streaming choice. It is as chilling as its winter setting, so if you’re keen on some Satanist horror this month, go ahead and summon Jackson.
Anything for Jackson is available to stream on Shudder starting December 4th.
Anything for Jackson’s middle act isn’t as strong as the sections that bookend it, but this is still a delightfully dark and well-crafted satanic shocker.