By RACHEL REEVES
Starring Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos
Directed by Justin G. Dyck
Written by Keith Cooper
Vortex Words Pictures
There are few emotions as potent as grief, loss, or guilt. Mix all three together and the result is a powerfully influential cocktail of sentiment. Although frequently sipped on by filmmakers both in and out of the horror genre, this age-old recipe for desperation and despair takes on a delicious new twist in Justin G. Dyck’s latest film, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON.
At the heart of the film lie Audrey and Henry Walsh, portrayed by Sheila McCarthy (Die Hard 2) and Julian Richings (Vicious Fun). A wealthy, educated older couple with means and resources, their world of privilege comes crashing down around them following the tragic deaths of their daughter and grandson, Jackson. Desperate for options and struggling to cope with this dual loss, the couple turns to darker, less traditional means of healing. Hooking up with a local Satanist group that meets at the local community center, Audrey and Henry soon learn of a controversial way to bring Jackson back to the realm of the living. After using purchasing a priceless Satanic codex, Henry abuses his position as a doctor to identify and kidnap a young, pregnant woman named Becker (Konstantina Mantelos). While trying to perform a ritual that would allow Jackson’s spirit to inhabit Becker’s unborn child, the Walsh’s inadvertently open a gateway to Purgatory. As the situation spirals out of control, danger, death, police, and ghosts begin to swirl around the Walsh home in an increasingly personal fashion.
After years of churning out Hallmark and children’s movies, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is a refreshingly great and unexpected horror film from both director Justin G. Dyck and writer Keith Cooper. Beautifully shot by Sasha Moric, every square inch of the film exudes atmosphere. Coupled with John McCarthy’s marvelously creepy score, the emotional undercurrent is successfully supported in both emotional tone and visual appearance. And while the story is fascinating on its own, the film’s true strength lies within its intelligent use of practical effects, layered emotional tone, and expertly executed performances from McCarthy and Richings. Although the Walshes’ actions are unequivocally villainous, their motivations and characters inspire empathy.
Driven by grief, logic and reasoning take on new, subjective meanings as the duo oddly balance diplomacy and kindness with their abduction and imprisonment of Becker. Giving off strong Rosemary’s Baby (1968) vibes, the Walshes read prepared statements assuring Becker of her safety, provide her with adequate nutrition, and outfit her with the most comfortable restraints possible. However, they also keep a nanny cam constantly aimed at Becker, soundproof the room to avoid outside interference, and remain stubbornly dedicated to their cause despite an increasing amount of bloodshed. This dichotomy between action and emotion imbues the film with a wonderfully dark sense of absurdity. Swaddled in beige, brown, and blue tones, there’s a terrifying normalcy to the Walshes and a further incongruity in the mundanity of their demeanor. Seasoned criminals, they are not, but calculated and determined nonetheless.
As the path to Jackson’s reincarnation begins to go astray, Cooper’s story begins to wander a bit as well. As more and more characters become involved, their presence begins to detract from what makes the film so great to begin with. Mainly, when fellow ‘church’ member Ian (Josh Cruddas) steps in to help close the purgatory gate and control the increasing number of ghosts, the film spends an unnecessary amount of time on his character. Pulling focus away from the Walshes and their hauntingly dark and loveable nature, Ian’s story adds variety, yes, but little else.
However, when it comes to the ghosts and demons present in the film, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON excels. Relying heavily on practical effects, physical performances, and creatively structured in-camera tricks, the ghosts are surprisingly effective and original. Coupled with Becker’s inability to escape her restraints and the Walshes’ complete lack of control over the situation, the relationship between the dead and the living becomes legitimately scary and anxiety inducing. Previously emboldened by their privilege and wealth, there’s a certain level of gratification that comes from watching their initial plans spiral. While finances and status allow the initial wheels of their plan to be set in motion, there are limitations to what money and privilege can do.
Delicately muddying the waters between villain and victim, entitlement and desperation, ANYTHING FOR JACKSON cleverly explores the dark recesses of grief and its dangerous potential. While you may come to the film for the ghosts and demonic possessions, you’ll stay for two of the most endearingly villainous characters in modern horror.