The 1980s was a decade defined by greed where the ‘rich got richer’. And it’s also the decade that saw a ‘Satanic Panic’ grip the United States. From handwringing over heavy metal music to a primetime special edition of Geraldo, Americans believed that Satanists were hiding in plain sight across the countryside. Recent horror movies – including Satanic Panic and The Babysitter – have extracted equal measures of laughs and gross-outs from this moral panic. Now Canadian horror entry Anything for Jackson looks to take a more serious approach to the occult and Satanists with a bit of dark humour. And critics have been praising the low-budget thriller.
When Dr Henry Walsh and Audrey lose their grandson, Jackson, in a tragic car accident they’re overcome with grief. Unable to move forward, the elderly couple abduct Henry’s pregnant patient, Becker. Using the dark arts, the couple call upon Satan to transfer the soul of their lost grandson into Becker’s unborn child. But the ritual comes with a steep cost. The couple has opened a doorway to demonic guests. Now unknown evils haunt the Walsh’s and curse anyone who comes within the house’s vicinity. As the ritual unfolds, the Walsh’s and Becker are running out of time to escape with their souls.
Anything for Jackson Delivers Maximum Scares on a Minimum Budget
Straight out of the gate, Anything for Jackson promises it has something different in store for horror fans. In its opening scene, a benign conversation abruptly gives way to something inexplicably sinister. The shock takes a moment to settle in. Consider it a bold announcement that Anything for Jackson won’t overindulge in the familiar. Yet for most of its first act, director Justin G Dyck and writer Keith Cooper aim for dark humour. And it works. Watching Henry and Audrey casually read a prepared kidnapping note to Becker or share snacks at an occult gathering in a community centre is subtly absurdist comedy. But then Dyck and Cooper pull the rugs out from under our feet. Soon after the Walsh’s perform their dark ritual, Anything for Jackson becomes a supremely frightening movie.
Though he should be out of his wheelhouse, Dyck excels at building the movie’s scares.
Over the course of its runtime, Anything for Jackson becomes an increasingly unsettling affair. Expect several high-quality scares and disturbing images that exceed this movie’s small budget. Some clever filmmaking techniques and effects make a sheet-wearing ghost feel creepy. Moreover, a contorted ‘Suffocating Ghost’ and ‘Flossing Ghost’ should earn some well-deserved jumps. Interestingly, Dyck has primarily toiled behind the camera making Hallmark-ish Christmas movies. Though he should be well out of his wheelhouse, Dyck excels at building the movie’s scares. Maybe Dyck was working out his anger over these past movies in a truly shocking scene involving a snow-blower. In fact, Anything for Jackson only slightly descends into familiar territory in its final act.
Anything for Jackson Offers Strong Performances and Clever Subtext
In addition to its delivery of scares, Anything for Jackson benefits from a clever screenplay. As mentioned above, Cooper juxtaposes supernatural horror with casual banter that should (but doesn’t) feel out of place. Still it’s some of the movie’s understated ideas that add to its overall effect. Like Ready or Not, Anything for Jackson shows older, wealthy characters exploiting the socially marginalized for their own selfish ends. All their casual banter betrays a disconnect with their privileged social positions. Whether it was intended or not, Dyck and Cooper’s occult-themed story alongside Henry and Audrey’s selfish exploitation of Becker provides an intriguing subtext. That the movie taps into the same ‘Satanic Panic’ that characterized a decade of greed offers an additional layer to the scares.
…Richings completely convinces as a tightly wound man slowly coming unraveled under pressure.
As for the movie’s performances, Anything for Jackson once again exceeds its low-budget. Horror fans will immediately recognize veteran character actor, Julian Richings (Wrong Turn, Urban Legend). Given the opportunity to headline a movie, Richings completely convinces as a tightly wound man slowly coming unraveled under pressure. As Audrey, Sheila McCarthy similarly excels at balancing a steely determination with a desperate love for her lost grandchild. Both Richings and McCarthy even manage to elicit some sympathy for their characters. Though she’s given less to do, Konstantina Mantelos exudes a likable optimism that gives way to a resourceful survival instinct. Manetlos’ ‘Becker’ gives audiences a character with whom to identify.
Anything for Jackson a Refreshingly Scary Take
After some darkly fun winks and nods in the early going, Anything for Jackson proves to be one of the scarier movies in recent memory. Smarts twists on familiar tropes with inventive scares and practical effects alongside great performances delivers a surprise gem for horror fans. Even if Anything for Jackson’s final act leans towards the expected the overall result is still one of 2021’s better genre movies. With so many takes on ‘dark wishes’ and Satanist cults, there’s a refreshing feeling to this low-budget outing. Maybe Dyck should permanently pivot away from Hallmark movies to horror – he clearly has a penchant for the macabre.