The day Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry Walsh’s (Julian Richings) grandson Jackson died was the day they sold their souls to the Devil—figuratively speaking, of course. It wasn’t until they joined a Satanist church run by a bunch of posers in a community center that the idea to bring him back became more than simply a fantasy. That’s where they learned about an ancient book of dark magic possessing the means to do so and how they might find it. With all questions about its legitimacy evaporated after one of its spells inexplicably helps a dead crow fly again, the time finally arrived to fulfill their intention of transferring Jackson’s soul into another woman’s (Konstantina Mantelos’ Becker) unborn baby so that he may live once more.
We meet this trio on the day of the kidnapping only to learn the Walshs left nothing to chance. Becker is Henry’s patient and only a few days away from giving birth. Because she runs past their home for exercise every morning, they’re able to use her routine to their advantage when nobody is looking. Up to the attic she goes in handcuffs for the demonic ritual that’s now been months in the making to commence. While preparing their vessel to call upon the Etruscan Goddess of Death and the Underworld was always the plan, everything that ultimately transpires certainly was not. From a suspicious detective (Lanette Ware’s Burrows) to a desperate snow plower (Yannick Bisson’s Rory), anxieties are already running high when the ghosts start to appear.
If you weren’t yet aware that Audrey and Henry are in over their heads, this revelation surely confirms it. The wildly chaotic fallout is the one thing for which they haven’t prepared because grandparents shouldn’t be performing criminal acts in the name of a winged “angel.” But here they are too far-gone to listen when Becker appeals to their morality because stopping is no longer an option. It’s therefore fitting that the two men responsible for this descent of errors into Hell are perhaps the unlikeliest pair to do so when considering their recent creative output. Director Justin G. Dyck has helmed multiple made-for-TV Christmas movies each year over the past half-decade with screenwriter Keith Cooper scribing more than a few. Never judge a book by its cover.
As the title Anything for Jackson states, however, certain desires demand going against one’s character. That’s not to say Audrey and Henry are ready to kill. They specifically told each other murder was a line they wouldn’t cross. So there are obviously more reasons for picking Becker than mere convenience. They needed someone who might not care about living her life after her baby is stolen—someone they might be able to keep silent at least until they made their escape. This whole endeavor is about life after all. You can’t hope to reverse death by causing more. Not on purpose anyway. Because whether or not people start dying by their hand or from the bad luck of being too close, the Walshs won’t be shedding any tears.
We won’t either since the snowball effect they’ve ignited unfolds with comedic propulsion. Carefully laid plans are never airtight and the need to deviate appears the moment Becker runs by earlier than expected. From there it’s sticking to a story of lies that haven’t considered every possible question they might be asked in response. You can either check out because Dyck and Cooper take pains to ensure their leads seem smart only to later make them look stupid or stick with it by chalking any missteps up to the stress that goes into kidnapping someone and pretending nothing’s wrong. Some things are harder to accept than others (the Walshs’ proficiency in performing incantations despite never hearing about salt barriers is suspect), but never egregious enough to walk away.
It helps that McCarthy and Richings are so endearing in their villainy. We empathize with their plight—heck, Becker does too. Their choices aren’t great and their willingness to do harm (and let harm be done in the wake of their actions) is inexcusable, but grief is a powerful drug. They do therefore become victims themselves both to that emotion and the consequences born from it. They relinquish control the second they invite Vanth (Rebecca Lamarche) into their home because what they assumed to be an easy request to open Hell’s gate for young Jackson inevitably turns into a Pandora’s Box scenario devoid of hope. Audrey, Henry, and Becker are each terrorized by what’s been unleashed with no one but fellow (unhinged) Satanist, Ian (Josh Cruddas) to assist.
He’s one more eccentric player to add to the mix—another who’s trapped in his/her own mind and unable to extricate him/herself from what rapidly becomes an untenable situation. While they do add to the inherent humor of the whole’s absurdity, their inclusion also crucially offsets a second subset of periphery characters that conversely bring Anything for Jackson into the realm of unapologetic horror. These are the ghosts devoid of any funny bone whatsoever that ostensibly become foils in comedic set pieces built upon their severity. There’s a double-jointed suffocating man crab walking through the room, an old woman flossing teeth out of her head, and a creepy little girl under a sheet in search of candy. We only laugh at the juxtaposition until they begin spilling blood.
That dynamic is where the filmmakers truly excel because this could have easily devolved into a humorless drama without intrigue or a cartoonish exploit without stakes. The ability to toe the line between those results isn’t something that should be undersold. Neither should the casting of McCarthy and Richings with their keen awareness to maintain earnestness despite the narrative’s tonal cartwheels that surround them. The Walshs are operating under a code that never wavers even when they become victims of their own making. They must eventually choose between the possibility of losing their grandson forever and the likelihood of helping to create the apocalypse. And if ever there was a time when personal sacrifice for the safety of others proved incontrovertible, the age of COVID-19 is it.
Anything for Jackson streams on Shudder from December 3.