Anything for Jackson opens with elderly couple Audrey and Henry Walsh (Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings, respectively) making small talk over their morning coffee. Within the first minute, the affection the two have for each other is clear as day. That chemistry between the actors remains the film’s greatest strength throughout its hour and thirty-seven minute runtime, instantly turning Audrey and Henry into compelling characters in a genre where people their age are woefully underrepresented. Which genre is that?
Well, Anything for Jackson is a Shudder exclusive, and the mood abruptly shifts when the couple suddenly exit the frame only to return seconds later dragging a gagged, screaming woman into their home. The woman is Shannon Becker (Konstantina Mantelos), a pregnant woman and patient of Henry, an OB/GYN. The couple lost their daughter and grandson under tragic circumstances, and have hatched a plan to kidnap Shannon and take her baby to fill the grief-stricken hole in their lives. Their scheme is airtight (“Believe me when I say we’ve thought of everything. No one has more time than a grieving family.” Audrey tells Shannon early on) so long as Henry can successfully dodge questions from a prodding detective (Lanette Ware) and not arouse the suspicions of his well-meaning, friendly neighbor (Yannick Bisson).
What’s most interesting about this film is the duo of director Justin G. Dyck and writer Keith Cooper – the pair’s previous credits are largely TV movies with titles such as Ponysitters Club: The Big Sleepover or A Very Country Christmas. Anything For Jackson is a drastically different turn for them, and it’s obvious that the two are having a blast with it. The bare-bones setup is thrilling enough with the sinister and strangely empathetic Walsh duo pitted against Shannon’s growing conviction to free herself. This premise alone could make for a decent enough movie, but Dyck and Cooper choose to go wild with it. There are ghosts, demons, and the devil himself as it’s revealed that Henry and Audrey are really part of a Satan-worshipping cult, and their true plan is to insert their grandson’s spirit into Shannon’s unborn baby in a sort of reverse-exorcism. The couple end up in over their heads though, and the supernatural forces that they meddle with might be more than they can handle.
All of these things are introduced within the first twenty minutes, and the film continuously manages to remain just as entertainingly unpredictable as it goes on, even as it stays in its singular location of the Walsh house. The three occupants are accosted by horrifying visions, dreams, and hallucinations, which serve as reasons for the filmmakers and their team to stage elaborate scare sequences. Not all of these are winners, but the way the scenes play with their rhythm, pacing, and even the dimensions of the space their in make them all impressive, and a couple manage to be quite disturbing. Of particular note is performer Troy James playing the role of “Suffocating Ghost” in a scene so genuinely terrifying that it might just be the scariest of the entire year.
But as Anything for Jackson stays surprising and accelerates to its body-pileup of a third act, it loses sight of what initially made it gripping: The love between Henry and Audrey, and their desperation born out of grief. The monsters they summon end up overshadowing their initial tragedy, an apt metaphor for the story, but the film’s grip on its original focus and intimacy is lost among the parade of monsters and special effects. Still, the movie is consistently well-acted – especially by its two leads – and has moments of levity that help it avoid becoming too self-serious or dour. Dyck and Cooper have made a successful and impressive pivot in their careers here. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next.