ANYTHING FOR JACKSON (2020)

Anything for Jackson.jpg

Studio:      Shudder
Director:    Justin G. Dyck
Writer:      Keith Cooper
Producer:  Bill Marks, Christopher Giroux, Justin G. Dyck, Keith Cooper
Stars:     Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos, Josh Cruddas, Yannick Bisson

Review Score:

75.jpg

Summary:

Grieving grandparents open a demonic doorway when they kidnap a pregnant woman and use a Satanic spell to try resurrecting their dead grandson.


Synopsis:     

Review:

We need a word that¡¯s shorthand for a fright film with a sly sense of humor, yet isn¡¯t what we commonly consider a horror-comedy. Not simply to set such movies apart from obvious joke shows like ¡°Zombieland¡± or ¡°What We Do in the Shadows.¡± We also need some distance from self-aware satires and setups that aren¡¯t strictly serious like ¡°The Hunt¡± (review here) or ¡°Happy Death Day¡± (review here).

I wouldn¡¯t dare call ¡°Anything for Jackson¡± a comedy. Its amusing bits aren¡¯t built for belly-bursting laughs. The movie merely accents its atmosphere with dark snips of subtle snark meant to induce infrequent smirks. It¡¯s more of a method to take the edge off a story that incorporates some truly terrible topics, e.g. grieving a toddler¡¯s death, forcibly kidnapping a pregnant woman, and witnessing several suicides. Turning in two seconds of barely-there levity every so often reminds us we¡¯re immersed in fiction intended for escapism. That way we receive a grounded story that gets to be chilling without viewers feeling like they need to visit a priest or psychiatrist to treat lasting nightmares afterward.

¡°Fargo¡± gets brought up a lot when people want to describe folksy characters bent in a particularly peculiar way. That¡¯s not quite right for this movie though. ¡°Anything for Jackson¡¯s¡± denizens aren¡¯t askew enough to qualify as quirky. Keeping with a ¡°qu¡± adjective, it¡¯d be more appropriate to call them queer, and I mean that in the non-LGBTQ sense of the term.

One of the great things about ¡°Anything for Jackson,¡± and there are several, is Julian Richings being cast in a beefy leading role. Richings is a perennial ¡®That Guy,¡¯ second only to Stephen McHattie as Canada¡¯s Dick Miller of genre character actors. Seeing him behind the wheel for a change is fantastic for fans who have been around as long as he has.

He sometimes swaps positions for the passenger seat however, because ¡°Anything for Jackson¡± is as much a showcase for the equally excellent Sheila McCarthy as it is for Richings. Richings and McCarthy play Henry and Audrey Walsh. He¡¯s a doctor. She¡¯s his wife. They¡¯re both grandparents mourning the tragic death of their grandson Jackson. Henry and Audrey also both worship Satan, and they¡¯re confident that occult connection can help them bring the beloved boy back from the dead.

The couple¡¯s plan involves abducting Henry¡¯s pregnant patient Shannon, imprisoning her in their home, then using an ancient grimoire that can supposedly pull Jackson out of purgatory and put him into Shannon¡¯s unborn child. Naturally, that¡¯s not how things work out. Henry and Audrey¡¯s summoning spell knocks over a line of demonic dominoes starting with ghastly ghosts haunting the home and ending with evil entities possessing anyone setting foot on the property. In between addressing the apparitions, Henry and Audrey have to deal with a nosy detective investigating Shannon¡¯s disappearance as well as an envious cult member who wants in on the satanic scheme.

Even though this is one of those setups where a runaway snowball spins out of control, ¡°Anything for Jackson¡± doesn¡¯t devolve into a madcap caper. In keeping with its not-quite-a-comedy tone, the movie¡¯s second act stays sinister, more or less becoming a series of macabre milieus featuring violent visuals and memorable monsters. A cool contortionist creature ups the ante on paranormal pretzel people by having suffocating plastic give him ghoulish gasps. A hag who flosses her teeth hard enough to make them fall out can practically make your own gums bleed via phantom pain. It¡¯s as if writer Keith Cooper and director Justin G. Dyck came up with clever ideas for frightening sights and figured out how to fit them into a feature, which isn¡¯t a bad thing when they¡¯re as eerily entertaining as this movie is.

Soaked in suspense more than in shocks, ¡°Anything for Jackson¡± doesn¡¯t have the snappiest pace. Events are always happening, although they can be calm conversations setting up payoffs down the road or flashing back in time to fill in informational blanks. I wouldn¡¯t say the speed gets sleepy per se. But it¡¯s best to set aside a pinch of patience while remaining confident tension will explode when it¡¯s ready.

The film isn¡¯t just unsettling and occasionally humorous. It makes moments of honest drama out of death, despondency, and emotional trauma, often through thoughtful quips like, ¡°People say ¡®sorry¡¯ instead of fixing things,¡± and all while keeping everything balanced on an enjoyable edge of darkly unusual horror. It¡¯s a somewhat simple film that¡¯s unexpectedly tricky to talk about. I don¡¯t know how accurately I described ¡°Anything for Jackson,¡± but I hope it was well enough to come across as recommended.

Review Score: 75