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The Canadian horror film “Anything for Jackson” is a clever, genre-blending gem that takes the viewer on a surprising and extremely satisfying ride.

A sweet, elderly married couple banter in the kitchen, exchanging good-natured jabs. It’s an ordinary, almost banal scene that lasts for no more than a minute. And it’s the last minute in this entire film that feels remotely ordinary.

The affluent couple, Doctor Henry Walsh (Julian Richings, Supernatural) and his wife Audrey (Sheila McCarthy, The Umbrella Academy), are expecting a guest. When she arrives, they enthusiastically rush outside to greet her. Only, this is no ordinary houseguest. This is a nine month’s pregnant woman named Becker (Konstantina Mantelos), and she’s been summoned for very nefarious reasons.

Henry and Audrey knock her out, gag her, and tie her to the bed. When she wakes up, a cherubic little blonde boy, reminiscent of Pet Sematary’s Gage, is softly pawing at her face. Audrey is sitting in a chair across from the bed intently watching her victim. Only, she doesn’t seem at all like a ruthless kidnapper holding a hostage. Instead, she pulls out a piece of paper and nervously reads from a script where she introduces herself and apologizes for scaring the woman.

We learn that Henry is Becker’s OBGYN, haven chosen his victim because she was all alone and unenthusiastic about becoming a mom. Turns out, the couple are in need of a vessel to bring back the spirit of their deceased grandson, Jackson. And that little boy in the room is actually the ghost of Jackson. The Walshes take the fact that Jackson manifested to Becker as a damn good sign he is ready to inhabit the body of her unborn baby.

We also discover that Audrey and Henry happen to be Satanists. When a confused and terrified Becker utters the phrase, “Oh, Jesus,” Audrey hilariously replies, “We don’t use that name in this house.”

Early in the film, the tone remains light, leaning heavily into the humor and whimsicality of the absurd plot.

There’s a wickedly funny flashback where Audrey shows Henry how she learned to reanimate a dead crow by reading from a thousand-year-old book. He says, “We can’t be bringing dead things to life.” Without missing a beat, she quips, “Well, I can. I’ve been doing it all morning.”

And therein lies the crux of the film’s central moral dilemma.

Audrey, and in turn Henry in an effort to appease his wife, focuses entirely on what is possible — what she can do rather than what she should do. While her intentions come from a place of grief and love for her grandson rather than malice, her desperation becomes a dark force that manifests in increasingly frightening ways.

In fact, there are hints early on that Anything for Jackson, for all its initial charm and sweetness, has a much darker undercurrent.

As Audrey is simultaneously comforting Becker and stressing the severity of the situation, she lets her captive know that there is no reason to struggle or try to escape. They have thought of everything; they have rehearsed and replayed every possible scenario a thousand times. Because “no one has more time than a grieving family. No one.”

Soon, the film starts to introduce some more disturbing elements, like a Satanic ritual that takes a twisted turn.

However, it still maintains its humor and heart as things get increasingly more horrific.

Eventually, we start to see the repercussions of the ritual, including an onslaught of paranormal activity and ghostly manifestations. As the Walshes soon discover, once you open a door to another realm, you don’t get to control who or what comes through that door.

Anything for Jackson pays homage to a host of other iconic horror films, including Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Evil Dead, The Omen, and The Amityville Horror. It’s got everything from creepy ghost kids, to Satanic cults, to terrifying contortionist specters and gruesome body horror. It also boasts a bundle of surprising twists and turns, including a gut punch of an ending I wasn’t prepared for.

Canadian genre royalty Richings and McCarthy are extraordinary, and they play off each other perfectly. Though they may be up to very bad things, they remain empathetic and likable throughout. McCarthy portrays Audrey, the mastermind of the odious plot, as sweet and well-intentioned. It’s this kindness and innocence juxtaposed with a plot centered around a Satanic, reverse exorcism, that makes the more shocking events of the film that much more surprising and impactful.

Richings is compelling as the doting husband whose deep love for his wife transcends all his intelligent pragmatism and moral objections. He knows what the two are doing is wrong. But, if it brings the light back into Audrey’s life, it will have been worth it — whatever the cost. As a viewer, you will also be keenly aware of how wrong it is. But you may find yourself rooting for the two just the same.

Josh Cruddas’ as the Satanic incel Ian who is both awkwardly nerdy and dangerously unhinged is also a stroke of casting genius.

Ultimately, this is a story about real life horror; heartbreak, guilt, grief — and what it does to you.

But that doesn’t mean the cinematic horror takes a backseat.

With a wonderfully creepy atmosphere and stellar practical effects, Anything for Jackson is truly terrifying at times. The ghosts that haunt the home are horrifying, and many of the film’s nightmare inducing visuals will remain etched in your brain for quite some time.

The film repeatedly shifts swiftly and wildly in tone, but it’s a credit to director Justin G. Dyck that it remains a smooth ride rather than a bumpy and disjoined one.

Horror comedies tend to be woefully light on the scares, while arthouse films using genre elements as a metaphor for pain tend to be emotionally heavy, slow-burning affairs that often alienate hardcore horror fans. Thanks to Dyck’s assured direction, committed performances, and a remarkable script from Keith Cooper, Anything for Jackson manages to be funny but frightening, sorrowful but sweet, outlandish but grounded. And that essential equilibrium holds steady even as events spin ferociously out of control.

That alone may be more of a supernatural feat than summoning a demonic gatekeeper and opening a portal to the other side. At the very least, it makes for a mighty fine film that’s entertaining as hell and not easily forgotten.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

The Super Channel Fuse Original horror feature, Anything for Jackson, made its world premiere at the legendary Fantasia International Film Festival on September 1, 2020. It made its US premiere at the Nightstream Film Festival on October 9, 2020, which is where we screened this film for review. 

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