There is a slew of films focusing on trauma and grief that use the horror genre as a lens to examine these to a great effect. Films such as Relic and Hereditary have recently struck a chord with audiences with their delicate, yet terrifying portrayals of something that goes beyond just scares. Latest to attempt this is Justin G. Dyck’s Anything For Jackson and it’s an effective if a little undercooked treat.
The film begins with Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry (Julian Richings) kidnapping a young, heavily pregnant woman Becker (Konstantina Mantelos), and tying her up. The elderly couple’s plan is to perform a reverse exorcism of sorts and insert their dead grandson Jackson’s soul into Becker’s unborn child. The couple, Satanists, are in too deep, however, and end up getting way more than they bargained for in the form of ghosts and demons galore.
The biggest issue in Anything For Jackson is that Dyck and writer Keith Cooper, never settle on an emotional focal point. The aim is clearly to produce a film that talks about grief and loss and would resonate with a large audience, all the while providing terrifying scares and nightmarish visions. There is plenty of the latter – a huge shout out to Troy James who plays ‘Suffocating Ghost’ and is one of the most horrific sights this critic has seen in a while – but Audrey and Henry’s grief is never explored enough for it to leave a lasting impression.
Clocking in at 97 minutes, Anything For Jackson is breezy, yet a little overstuffed with ideas and tonal changes. It excels with the horror stuff and scares but is less effective when Cooper’s script brings in more characters, all of whom feel increasingly disposable. The film hits some very high highs early on in the narrative and after that, the pace is considerably slower and the film plays out much more like a thriller. It’s not bad, it’s still engaging and interesting but the sudden change feels a little jarring.
Anything For Jackson is filled with incredible character actors, who give solid performances across the board. McCarthy as the fragile, but determined Audrey is especially impressive and she roots her performance and the entire character in the loss she has suffered. Every line is tinged with sadness and strange optimism; as long as Audrey gets her grandson back, everything will be fine, regardless of the horrors she witnesses or commits to get that.
Julian Richings is equally great as Henry, who desperately attempts to keep the escalating and chaotic situation under wraps from the authorities and from getting completely out of control. Richings and McCarthy craft a fascinating, sweet dynamic between the couple, and one of Anything For Jackson’s biggest strengths is the refusal to make these two into the villains of the story, despite their actions.
From a technical standpoint, Anything For Jackson is very capable. It’s full of great shot compositions and it isn’t afraid to let the camera rest on the various ghosts that show up to terrorise our characters. There’s still something that doesn’t quite click within the film. It doesn’t leave a strong impression and it’s simply not scary enough. It’s tense and chilling, at times terrifying even, but never enough to make the viewer’s heart skip a beat or make their blood run cold in their veins. It’s still a very effective little genre find and features some imaginative, scary ghosts that might haunt your dreams.
Dir: Justin G. Dyck
Scr: Keith Cooper
Cast: Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos, Josh Cruddas
DOP: Sasha Moric, Stephen Chandler Whitehead
Music: Josh McCarthy
Run time: 97 minutes
Anything For Jackson is available to stream on Shudder from December 3.