Holiday Horror: Anything For Jackson (2020) - Reviewed

Photo courtesy Shudder

Who’d expect the director of an embarrassing amount of made-for-TV Christmas films would astound us with one of the best horror films of the year?  Yes, you heard me right.  Justin G. Dyck is an anomaly of a director, taking a sharp turn in a completely different direction to spread more holiday fear than cheer this December in the new Shudder film Anything for Jackson, and horror fans should expect to be pleasantly surprised.

In true “holiday movie” fashion, the film celebrates strong family ties, but expect no wholesomeness here.  Audrey and Henry Walsh are a charming elderly couple who love their grandson deeply.  The problem?  He’s dead, and they want to do something about it.  While most devoted grandparents would say they’d “do anything” for their grandchildren, they take their devotion to the next level by swearing their allegiance to Satan and trying to resurrect him in a ritualistic sacrifice involving kidnapping a pregnant woman to place their grandson’s soul into her unborn baby.  Unfortunately, they’re novices at casting spells, and end up inviting some unwelcome visitors into their home in the process. 

Constantly waltzing between quaint normalcy and twisted subversion, Anything for Jackson’s juxtaposition is a delight to watch.  What sets it apart from other films in this occult subgenre is how well the tone is set.  A film about murderous, Satanic grandparents who seem generally loveable otherwise could easily fall into the slapstick horror comedy category, yet somehow the film manages to treat the material in a way that never goes that route.  While there are plenty of darkly humorous moments highlighting the sheer bizarreness of the whole situation (Audrey knitting adorable handcuff covers to make their abductee comfier, for instance), it is miraculously able to take itself seriously the entire way through, and in turn, so does the audience.

photo courtesy Shudder

Part of this film’s success is how brilliantly cast it is.  Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings are entirely believable as these near-absurd main characters.  Their gentle quarrels with each other and strangely polite demeanors are downright endearing no matter how horrific their behavior becomes, displaying the true love and devotion of a long-married, earnest elderly couple.  The small supporting cast masterfully rounds out their solid performances, from Josh Cruddas as the disturbed Satanic expert to Konstantina Mantelos as the distressed victim of this couple’s nefarious plot. 

The frightening moments of Anything for Jackson are diverse and work exceedingly well.  The Walshes’ surprise guests are as creepy as they are clever, unsettling enough make anyone to cringe profusely but also give a nod of respect in the process.  Ranging from a hag manically flossing her teeth to a fiendishly contorting, animalistic madman, these tortured ghosts are more physical than your standard cinematic ethereal entities, all displaying brilliant special effects makeup and performances.  To balance out these overtly terrifying figures, there’s plenty of subtle horror here as well, with several “jump scare” moments of misdirection to top off the terror.  The film culminates in a suspenseful, action-packed climax that doesn’t disappoint; much like the rest of the film, it stays true to its tone and keeps audiences immersed in the world of these gruesome grandparents.

Anything for Jackson defies all odds by becoming one of the most visionary and intelligent pieces of original content to grace Shudder’s platform.  From seemingly out of left field, filmmaker Justin G. Dyck has given horror fans a gift for the holidays that will keep on giving for years to come with the potential to reach cult status in no time.  Invite the villainous Walshes and their horde of haunts into your home this month, and celebrate the holiday season with some demonic delight.  You won’t regret it.

-Andrea Riley