Anything For Jackson

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Anything For Jackson
"Richings and McCarthy deliver two of the finest performances in genre works this year." | Photo: Shudder

Dealings with demons never go well. One need read only a smattering of occult literature to know that. Henry (Julian Richings) and Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) have read a great deal.They're willing to risk it anyway. For them, it's not about wealth or knowledge or power or any of the usual things. It's about a small, sandy-haired boy: Jackson, their grandson, dead thanks to a car accident but never for a moment out of their minds.

It's hard to condemn a couple like this, no matter what they do. There's a wonderful scene about a third of the way into the film where Audrey meets her husband in the park, squeezes a few drops of blood onto a dead crow and reads aloud from an ancient book - the sort of tome that cinema usually shows us only in hoary, ancient libraries whose velvet draperies are as heavy as the air, where the fugue of ancestral decay lingers in the dust and eldritch things scuttle in the shadows. She's been carrying it around in her handbag. "You can't just go around bring dead things back to life!" Henry proclaims, scandalised, as the crow flutters away; and she retorts, with a cheery sort of pride, "I've been doing it all morning!"

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It's hard to condemn a couple like this, so plainly driven by love, even when they do awful things. Even when they strap down a pregnant woman (Konstantina Mantelos) to a bed in their spare room, where they plan to conduct a ceremony so that Jackson's soul can enter the body of the child she's carrying. They've planned out every little thing, trying, absurd as it is, to reassure her and make her comfortable. They know she didn't want the pregnancy and all they want is the baby. They seem to have genuinely convinced themselves that they can do all this without any lasting harm coming to her. Clearly, there is some major cognitive dissonance at work - and that's before their rituals start producing more dramatic results, throwing everything off balance.

The pathos and gentle humour that saturate this tale of everyday folk in an absurd situation make its moments of horror much more disturbing. Two worlds intersect here that never should meet, and we can recognise the wrongness of it far more keenly than in most occult tales. Though tragedy seems inevitable, it's impossible to avoid getting attached to these beautifully developed characters, as Richings and McCarthy deliver two of the finest performances in genre works this year. Left to do most of the caring, Audrey cannot help but begin to bond with their prisoner. Henry, meanwhile, assumes the role of protector, assuring his wife that everything will be alright, as was expected of men of his generation - though he's less and less certain that it's true. And that's before Ian (Josh Cruddas), with his heavy metal and his bad hair, a Satanist of a more familiar type, begins to figure out what they're up to.

Balancing audience sympathies between his characters with great skill, director Justin G Dyck, who previously specialised in Christmas-themed TV movies, merges a poignant drama about age and loss with a much more immediate and visceral horror tale before taking his ending somewhere else entirely, evoking that sense of otherness that every occult genre filmmaker strives for. The absolutist character of love is here at its sweetest and most terrible, making the audience complicit in what unfolds. The distance between good and evil seems to grow smaller. We are aware of the smallness of ourselves, and of the vastness and wonder of what lies around us. There is no way back.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2020
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Anything For Jackson packshot
A bereaved Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson's spirit into her unborn child, but end up summoning more than they bargained for.

Director: Justin G Dyck

Writer: Keith Cooper

Starring: Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos, Josh Crudass, Yannick Bisson

Year: 2020

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Canada

Festivals:

Abertoir 2020

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