Written by Richard P Serin
The knowledge of our inevitable death is a curse that seems specific to the human race. Still, our intellectual understanding affords little preparation for the reality. Whatever our beliefs it is beyond the scope of our abilities to truly imagine what the experience of death is actually like. This is also true of imagining the potential loss of someone we love. We might think about it – rehearsing how it may feel and how we might react – but we can never truly know until it happens. We’re ill equipped to deal with the realities of mortality. Grief, when it comes, affects us all in different ways and it’s often said that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve. In most cases this is great advice; people can become overly concerned that they are not responding in what they believe is the ‘right’ way; often meaning the way it has been depicted in fiction. Having said that, if your grieving process leads you to kidnap a pregnant woman with the intention of performing a Satanic ritual so that you can implant the soul of your recently deceased grandchild into her gestating foetus, then may I suggest that your grieving process is anything but ‘right’.
After the tragic death of their young grandson, this is exactly what Henry and Audrey Walsh set out to do in Justin G. Dyck’s wickedly sharp Anything for Jackson. It’s a grim set up; only compounded by the farcical antics of this somewhat stuffy elderly couple, played by Julian Richings (Urban Legend; Man of Steel) and Sheila McCarthy (Die Hard 2; The Umbrella Academy). Each have a disarming and amicable demeanour that is at odds with their despicable endeavours. The Walshs are not your average Satanists.
From the outset, scenes of quirky comedy are assailed by moments of shocking brutality. It’s an uncomfortable juxtaposition, and the kind of cinematic balancing act that often falls short. Thankfully, Anything for Jackson gets it right; at times it reminded me of films such as Fargo and Three Billboards in Ebbing Missouri.
The ritualised, forced, possession around which the film is based has been referred to as a ‘reverse exorcism’, deliberately linking it to films such as The Exorcist and The Last Exorcism, while also emphasising the subversion of previously well-trodden tropes. And even though Anything for Jackson is very much its own beast, it often gives a knowing nod to its many inspirations, which includes timeless classics such as The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby.
Scattered throughout the horror and the comedy, revealing increasingly complex layers and lifting the film beyond its genre foundations, are moments of tenderness. Once perplexing characters develop depths that make them relatable and empathetic. Understandably enough, the most empathetic character is Shannon Becker, the poor woman who has fallen victim to the desperate couple. Konstantina Mantelos delivers a wonderful performance, switching effortlessly between fear, confusion, exasperation and anger, all while being restrained to a bed. The seriousness of her situation is never in doubt, nor is her determination and resolve.
All of the actors do a great job, and they have a great script to work from too. There are some brilliantly executed set-pieces and some joyously tactile special effects, but the success of this film rests on the performances.
There are weighty themes being explored here, such as the complexity of family relationships, societal prejudices and their related power dynamics, suicide, and the grief of losing a child. It manages to do this with a warmth that, much like the humour, never overshadows or undercuts the horror. It’s got classic thrills, it’s tense, it’s scary … it’s fun. It’s smart, original, and it features a really creepy kid too. It’s gorgeously shot and the score by John McCarthey is subtle and atmospheric. It’s even got just the right amount of Death Metal.Anything for Jackson is being marketed as a Christmas film, which I think is slightly misleading. Yes, it’s set in the winter and there is snow, but unlike Black Christmas, Krampus, or I Trapped the Devil, it’s not explicitly festive. If, like me, you only watch Christmas films at Christmas, then you might choose not to watch it outside of the festive season – which would be a shame. This is a film to be enjoyed at any time of year.
Rating: 4 out of 5