It’s been a while since an elderly couple were the villains in a horror movie. The Visit was five years ago, if you can believe it (funnily enough, it sucks even more now than it did back then but that’s not hard to believe). Anything for Jackson, an uneven but affecting Canadian flick directed by Justin G. Dyck (who’s done a frightening amount of festive TV movies) from a script by frequent collaborator Keith Cooper (same), aims to make old people scary again. Or, at the very least, to make those watching at home wonder whether their grandparents might secretly be Satanists (here’s hoping).
The couple in question are the Walshes, Audrey and Henry, a well to do duo living in a beautifully spacious but echoing, empty modern home, located in a snow-covered rural community where he’s a respected doctor. They’re enjoying their morning routine, chatting amiably, when suddenly the tone shifts as an unconscious young pregnant woman is smuggled through their front door. This unlucky lady is Becker, who’s expecting any day now and, up until this point in time, was happily being treated by Dr. Walsh.
The couple explains in soft, soothing tones that they’re not going to hurt Becker, even though she’s restrained to the bed, they simply need to use her as a vessel to bring back their dead grandson. Sure enough, the titular Jackson soon appears to the young woman – looking like the goddamn antichrist, it has to be said – solidifying, at least in Audrey and Henry’s minds, that they’re doing the right thing by him. The well-meaning couple has thought of everything, from soundproofing the house to how to keep the neighbors at bay. They’re nice, but creepy nice.
Becker has been chosen very carefully, of course. There are hints throughout Anything for Jackson that she has no family, but the point isn’t labored. She’s simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, as Becker soon learns, the Walshes have endured more than their fair share of tragedy in life and, although they’ve clearly lost the plot, she empathizes with their struggle. Naturally, however, they haven’t actually thought of everything (their plan ends in Mexico, hinting at their ineptitude) and soon the house is overrun with demons baying for blood – anybody’s blood.
Just like the Walshes themselves, everything in Dyck’s movie is well considered. There’s a doll dressed up like Jackson that sits on the bedside table, ebbing into frame during otherwise normal conversations. The satanic group meeting is held in the back hall of the local library and is attended exclusively by nerds, because of course it is. One of their number, Josh Cruddas’ Ian humorless and irritating Ian, is exceedingly well-cast. Ian has the air of an incel who’s been locked in his mother’s basement so long it’s rotted his brain, but he’s dangerous too, emphasizing how the biggest threats to our safety are often right under our noses.
The cinematography toggles between sludgy and too-bright, borderline clinical, almost as though the Walshes live in Henry’s office. It expresses their changing mind-sets, their hopelessness and desperate desire for control in increasingly bizarre circumstances. Anything for Jackson eventually becomes a haunted house movie, but it’s also an affectingly dark family drama, the inner workings of which are soulfully played by the central trio. Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings, who play Audrey and Henry respectively, are both theater vets and their command of the material never lags.
The Walshes are pathetic characters really, but their many contradictory layers are communicated by these two skilled performers without the need for showboating. It’s wonderful to see older actors being gifted these kinds of big, meaty roles, and McCarthy and Richings don’t waste a moment they’re onscreen. He gets one big guttural scream to diffuse the tension while she is tasked with befriending Becker, as a tentative bond slowly forms between the women. Konstantina Mantelos, who plays the young captive, also does a fine job of standing toe to toe with her more experienced co-stars, especially as she’s relegated to a bed for most of the movie.
With performances this strong, the genre elements might be lacking but Anything for Jackson is consistently scary, and looks to be mostly practical, too, whether it’s a big demonic creature played by a man in a suit or a contortionist with a plastic bag over his head who’s so terrifying he’ll make you check under the bed for weeks. Confining the action to a single location gives the filmmakers room to infect each corner of the Walshes’ house with dark energy. The horrifying, burn-in-your-brain imagery contained in this movie is better than anything and everything in the Insidious universe, from the aforementioned plastic bag guy, to the teeth lady, to a devilish trick-or-treater.
Sustained sequences of terror drag on for what feels like hours, meaning this is likely to be a massive hit with the Friday night crowd who are more used to the jumps coming hard and fast, the tension dissipating soon afterwards. Hardcore horror fans should find plenty to enjoy here too, whether it’s the strong, committed performances, the fresh take on satanic worship (Satan, so hot right now. Satan) or the genuinely unnerving group of demonic terrors housed within the walls of an otherwise clean, spacious family home that was already populated by ghosts to begin with. It may not pack quite as big of a punch as others in its sub-genre, but when it’s good, Anything for Jackson is pure nightmare fuel.
WICKED RATING: 7/10