A reverse exorcism. This is what sold me on Anything for Jackson, a movie that delivers on that promise and then goes back for more. It easily justified the price of admission, which in this case equates to a subscription to the ever-growing horror streaming service Shudder.
An older couple, grandparents grieving the loss of their grandchild, kidnap a pregnant woman and perform a ritual that invites a demon with the power to bring back the dead boy. The boy, the titular Jackson, would basically reincarnate in the kidnapped woman’s unborn baby. Such power, though, invites more than just the demon, and this is where the movie truly digs into the question behind its title: what exactly constitutes ‘anything’?
Director Justin G. Dyck, working off a script by Keith Cooper, finds in this question the means to really test just how much horror one can cram into what’s essentially a very intimate portrayal of loss, denial, and the consequences of extreme measures. As such, a lot falls on the performances behind the grandparents themselves, played by Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings. Thankfully, their work is just what the devil ordered to hold together this gleefully indulgent horror story.
McCarthy and Richings play the central couple with a sense of calm that’s on its last legs but also anxiously hinging on a satanic miracle that’ll make their lives mean something again. What comes out of this is a take on the classic “nice on the outside, psycho on in the inside” type of characterization that one thinks will drive most of the movie. But that’s only the beginning.
Dyck and Cooper pivot into darker territory quick and go down paths not usually travelled and McCarthy and Richings do an admirable job of adjusting to the nuances of the dark developments that come with the reverse exorcism. Their very grief transforms throughout, touching on regret, fear, and doubt as certain things start happening. There’s simply no substitute for great characters, and this movie proves it.
Anything for Jackson’s inspirations are easily recognizable on a surface level, with The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby springing to mind early on. While these movies do add a lot to the mix, they serve as a means to a different end. Whereas they take a more measured approach to their scares, slowly ramping up the horror and its frequency, Anything for Jackson goes from demon summoning straight into Hell on Earth as soon as the ritual is done.
Fans of 1970’s satanic panic movies will find a welcoming pull into grisly imagery here as the evil that was conjured sets in and invites horrors of its own. Dyck makes his mark with this turn of events. The hauntings are crafted with good old fashioned practical effects and smart camera tricks. They’re gruesome when they want to be to and suggestive when they need to, but never to the detriment of character development. The tension skyrockets as terrible things become the new normal. It created a very energetic sense of anxiety that fed on the relentlessness of the things that invited themselves in during the reverse exorcism.
It’s not common to see a horror movie show so much without sacrificing the scare factor that comes from keeping everything as ambiguous as possible. Dyck and the whole cast seemed to be aware of this and so managed to get the most out of the hell that’s taken residence in the grandparents’ house, especially as things get more and more sinister. Nothing felt gratuitous either. Each scary sequence adds to story development, be it in terms of character or the rich lore behind the ritual that brings forth the demon.
In spite of all that, the movie manages not to feel overwhelming or oppressive. Much of this is owed to it being quite funny in parts, although its more comedic aspects are still pretty dark and not insistent enough to take it into horror/comedy territory. In any case, I found the balance between the two a bit uneven, as if the people behind the movie weren’t entirely sure if they wanted to lean more or lean less into it being a horror/comedy. As it stands, horror comes out on top.
Anything for Jackson makes no excuses and wastes not a single second setting up the house of horrors the story sets out to be from the beginning. But make no mistake, this proverbial house has a solid foundation that’s sturdy enough to support everything that’s thrown at it. It’s smart horror design, of the kind we definitely need more of.