“Anything for Jackson” is a new Shudder original film arriving on the streaming service December 3. In the film, Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry Walsh (Julian Richings) kidnap a pregnant woman named Becker (Konstantina Mantelos) so that they can put their deceased grandson’s spirit into the unborn child using a ritual. But when using ancient spell books, things don’t always go as planned, do they? In this case, the elderly couple has invited a bevy of spirits into their home, so Jackson isn’t the only one vying for the new life promised by the unborn child.
While the premise may seem simple, writer Keith Cooper and director Justin G. Dyck get quite a bit of terrifying mileage out of it. The film opens with the cheery tune “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)” playing as Audrey and Henry are having what appears to be a normal morning; less than five minutes into the film they’ve already kidnapped Becker and moved on to the next steps in their plan. Dyck and cinematographers Sasha Moric and Stephen Chandler Whitehead do a slow zoom toward the end of this opening scene, with the camera never shifting focus from the same spot the whole time. This framing, along with the musical choice, makes the mood shift uncomfortably fast.
“Anything for Jackson” is not a horror film that relies on jump scares — I can’t even think of any that happened in the film. Instead, the filmmakers choose to show you a glimpse of something abnormal so that you know something bad or creepy is going to happen, but the reveal is tantalizingly slow. Musical cues are used throughout to compound this effect. There are a number of haunting images burned into my brain from this film, including one of an old-fashioned ghost-in-a-sheet costume — the scariest I’ve seen since The Shape in John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” in a turn of events that might remind you of “It Follows.”
There are hints of “The Omen” and “A Dark Song” in this one too. It would be near impossible to avoid those types of references, given the subject matter. Satanic cults, reverse exorcisms and other dark magic is a fascinating and well-explored space in cinema. But this also isn’t a rehash of other movies in this subgenre.
Back to the haunting images: The practical effects and makeup used in this movie are really well done. The filmmakers (and cast) successfully welcomed us into a creative house of horrors on what is, I’m assuming, not a large budget. Similarly, the production design is something to behold; the Walshes’ home is large and looming, while the room Becker is kept in features creepy details like a porcelain doll on a dresser and theater masks on the walls.
What is most unsettling about this movie, though, are the main characters. McCarthy and Richings have breathed life into these characters, making them feel all too real. They’re chillingly calm for most of the film — think Annie Wilkes in “Misery” — and you can genuinely feel their grief over Jackson, especially in McCarthy’s case. I mean, is there anyone on the planet that you would literally do anything for? The film’s title is clearly not an exaggeration.
But almost no movie is without its weaknesses, and “Anything for Jackson” is no exception. For me, the biggest weaknesses revolve around the character of Ian (Josh Cruddas). He and the Walshes are in the same “church” (or cult). The changes that this character goes through in a fairly short amount of time don’t really track, and even when those choices are sort of explained, it seems almost like a cop-out. The film’s ending also seems a bit rushed, if ambiguous.
That said, it’s an incredibly strong film for the first two acts. And while the ending isn’t quite what I’d hoped, it’s not enough to ruin my positive experience with the rest of the movie. I believe this could be a contender for top 10 lists this year, especially for those who enjoy films about dark entities and satanic rituals.
Check out “Anything for Jackson” when it lands on Shudder December 3, and let us know what you think of it!
Originally hailing from Pennsylvania, Jackie has called Austin home since choosing to attend the University of Texas, where she graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism. She loves spending time with her dogs, writing about pop culture in all its forms and spending time with friends – eating, drinking and doing trivia.