How far would you go to bring someone you love back from the dead?
That question isn't an uncommon theme in horror films, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it asked and answered in this way before. Justin G. Dyck's 2020 Shudder original, Anything for Jackson (written by Keith Cooper), is a refreshingly playful yet effectively sinister movie that unpacks the question in surprising ways and single-mindedly pursues the answer. Cooper's screenplay is tightly wound and dogged in its intent; it's an expertly paced thriller that knows exactly when to lay on the scares, as well as when to give a cheeky wink.
To reveal too many specifics would be to rob the ride of some of its unexpected thrills, so I promise I won't. The film rests on the shoulders of Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry (Julian Richings), a grieving couple still mourning the loss of their grandson, Jackson. In a masterful single-shot prologue scene that dances dangerously close to perfection, Audrey and Henry kidnap a pregnant woman (Konstantina Mantelos) and set in motion their meticulously rehearsed plan to perform a ritual that would substitute the unborn child for their beloved Jackson. Needless to say, the well-worn world-weary cliche opener "the best laid plans..." gets a good thematic kneading for the remaining 90 minutes. In trying to open the gates to the afterlife to let Jackson back in, they unwittingly welcome a number of unwanted guests.
A primary reason for the film's effectiveness is the absolute necessity of every character and minor subplot. Every name that's dropped, every supporting player that enters the frame (not that there are many) and every hurdle Audrey and Henry encounter all coalesce into absolutely essential narrative markers. When we meet a new face, it's for a very specific reason. Cooper's writing is savvy enough to know the story doesn't need padding out, and the resulting film feels urgent and relentless in a way that only heightens the excitement of watching it.
There are a number of genuinely scary sequences throughout the film, and even a couple that managed to sneak through my heavily desensitised guard. Dyck and editor Vincent Whiteman's clever framing and pacing often subverts and obscures impending jump scares until just the right moment. In the same breath, though, these scares sometimes elicit the biggest laughs - there's a scene towards the end involving a particularly persistent ghost that had me rolling.
I had a couple of instances of confusion over some details regarding a couple of the minor characters during the second act, but only things that served as slight bumps along an otherwise slick and cohesive ride. I won't discuss them here for fear of spoiling an interesting plot detail, but I'm optimistic they'll iron themselves out on second viewing.
The undercurrent of dark humour keeps the film crackling along by allowing it to earn the over-the-top body horror sequences while never taking itself too seriously. The climax of the film is a bloodbath, but still manages to pack an emotional punch at the same time. The conclusion of Anything for Jackson won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I admired its willingness to embrace the idiosyncratic open-ended-ness, while not succumbing to the seemingly inherent pressure and expectation of horror films having to leave the audience with a bad taste in its mouth.
How far would you go to bring someone you love back from the dead? I mean, certainly not THAT far.
Anything for Jackson is streaming on Shudder now.