‘Tis the season to be attempting to open the gates of the spiritual realm according to Shudder’s latest subversive yuletide offering. With a consistently impressive horror selection, including this year’s innovative lockdown flick Host, the streaming service is going from strength-to-strength. From director Justin G Dyck and screenwriter Keith Cooper, who have ironically already collaborated on made-for-TV films such as Christmas With a View, A Very Country Christmas and A Christmas Village, Anything for Jackson is a surprisingly fresh take on the supernatural genre, featuring an intriguing new twist on exorcisms.
Following the tragic death of their only grandson in a car accident, grieving grandparents Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and doctor Henry (Julian Richings) put their love to the test in an attempt to bring him back, by any means necessary. Kidnapping one of his pregnant patients, the pair plan to perform a ‘reverse exorcism’, invoking the soul of their grandson into her unborn baby. But as they begin the powerful satanic ritual, Jackson isn’t the only soul that they inadvertently invite into their house.
Dyck and Cooper have crafted a deliciously smart and twisted tale which raises the question, how far would you go for a loved one? Featuring numerous horror elements such as satanic cults and rituals, a creepy haunted house and black comedy, there’s plenty for genre fans to enjoy. But at the film’s heart, there’s a surprisingly intimate and emotional drama portraying how grief, trauma and loss can drive a couple to the brink. With a brisk runtime, Dyck and Cooper waste no time getting into the action, as Henry and Audrey naively attempt to perform a satanic ritual on kidnapped pregnant woman Shannon Becker (Konstantina Mantelos). But things obviously don’t go to plan when making deals with the devil, and their botched attempt unleashes increasingly more disturbing demons and spirits upon the house.
Casting McCarthy and Richings as the bereaved, elderly grandparents who dabble in satanism is a stroke of genius; subverting our expectations of typical horror villains. The fact they’re both genuinely so nice, yet carrying out such a terrible deed, also adds to the dark humour. McCarthy attempting to figure out what DTF stands for, while using a dating app is particularly hilarious. Due to being set primarily in one room with such a small cast, the pair are relied upon to carry large parts of the film, along with co-star Konstantina Mantelos. Yannick Bisson is also a highlight as the overly friendly neighbour, humorously leaning into the Canadian stereotype.
The Shudder original excels most when exploring the desperation and grief of the central couple, along with delving into the haunted house scenario. Dyck cleverly ramps up the tension with the use of jump scares, flashing lights and creepy set dressings framed with wide angle shots. The appearance of demons and dark spirits, including a contortionist with a plastic bag tied over their head and a mad woman who flosses her teeth out (cringe) are nightmare fuel, combined with some Final Destination inspired gory deaths.
Anything for Jackson pairs a clever concept with brilliant central performances from McCarthy and Richings for a subversive comedy horror. Whilst the ending didn’t quite land for me, this is another bold outing from Shudder.