Director Justin G. Dyck (Ponysitters Club, Christmas in the Rockies) and writer Keith Cooper (Operation Christmas List, Super Detention) have done something surprising in Anything for Jackson. They’ve found a new twist for an exorcism film. It’s even more surprising given the kinds of films they usually make. But then again, maybe making kids films fuels one’s bloodlust. Christopher Alender and Marcos Gabriel the director and writer of The Old Ways were previously best known for Disney Muppet videos.
Henry Walsh (Julian Richards, Hall, Polar) is a doctor, an OB-GYN in fact, with a successful practice, a big house in the country and a loving wife named Audrey (Sheila McCarthy, Level 16, AntiViral). Pretty typical, apart from the fact that they’re Satanists and have Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos) one of his pregnant patients tied up in a spare room.
Like any grandparents would be, they were devastated by the death of their grandson Jackson (Daxton William Lund). And they intend to do something about it. They’re going to perform a reverse exorcism and place the boy’s soul in the body of Shannon’s unborn child. What none of them know is that Jackson’s spirit isn’t the only one they managed to bring into their house.
While I’ve seen a few films such as Nothing But the Night and Brotherhood of Satan about adults putting their souls into children to gain immortality, Anything for Jackson is the first time I’ve seen something like this. And it’s such an obvious idea I can’t believe I haven’t seen it done to death during the recent wave of exorcism films.
Dyck and Cooper set things up nicely. We see Jackson’s ghost, he’s a cute little boy, one you almost want to see given a second chance at life. The Walshes are played not as stereotypical villains but as a couple pushed past reason by grief. They’re not exactly sympathetic, but they’re not your typically hateable bad guys either. It also makes it more believable when their mistakes lead to the house becoming overrun with hostile spirits.
Unfortunately, that also means the film switches course and turns into a more conventional haunted house film. The ghosts range from creepy to terrifying and are represented with a mix of practical effects, CGI and, for the unnerving “Suffocating Ghost” contortionist Troy James (Channel Zero, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). It’s a well-done ghost story, but it’s still a ghost story like we’ve seen before.
Thankfully Anything for Jackson gets back on track somewhat in the final act when Ian (Josh Cruddas, Copperhead, The Silencing), a fellow Satanist we meet briefly early in the film returns. He can help with the ritual and the ghosts, or so he says. But who is he exactly, and what are his motives? It all boils down to a tense and unexpected climax.
While I do wish Anything for Jackson had kept its focus on the original plotline it is never less than a good, scary movie. It just happens to be so much better when it’s breaking some new ground. However in the end I can’t be anything but impressed that Dyck and Cooper managed to pull off a genuinely scary exorcism film. It has some nice touches with a subplot involving an inquisitive detective and an “Oh Shit!” moment involving a snowblower.
Anything for Jackson has been playing the festival circuit to deserved acclaim, most recently at this year’s Blood in the Snow Film Festival. The film was commissioned by Super Channel so it will eventually play there. For future festival dates, you can check the production company’s Facebook page.