Grief has been a theme in horror for a long time, but you could be forgiven for thinking it started in the last decade when “elevated horror” became the new buzzword. At first glance, Shudder’s “Anything For Jackson” — with its bereaved grandparents seeking to perform a satanic ritual to bring their grandson back — would slot perfectly into this subgenre. While director Justin G. Dyck (incredibly, making his debut after a stint in holiday movies) doesn’t skimp on the creep factor, the biggest surprise is the vein of black comedy running throughout, courtesy of writer Keith Cooper.
The opening scene introduces us to Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry (Julian Richings), a doddering old couple who kidnap a pregnant woman and hold her captive. The woman is Becker (Kostantina Mantelos), a patient of Henry’s who happens to be a perfect match to host the spirit of the titular Jackson. These scenes are when the movie’s tone diverges; they do a fantastic job of sketching the characters into quintessential grandma and grandpa characters making poor choices, rather than an actively malicious “Rosemary’s Baby” type. It also demonstrates Dyck’s penchant for a match-cut to different time periods, as he cuts from Henry spacing out to the couple attending a black mass at the local community center (an extremely funny scene). Becker, meanwhile, starts off being relegated to a scream queen but later in the movie — and in flashbacks — develops nicely into an ersatz heroine.
Of course, their plan can’t go well and the latter half of the movie details the fallout of what happens when you put out an open invitation for spirits to come live in a new host. This is the moment when it switches back to fun horror mode. There may not be any original type of ghosts, but damned if they don’t pop out some creepy new creations, like a twisting demon with a bag on its head, or a woman literally flossing her teeth out. Special notice should go to a particularly effective use of the corny sheet ghost that turns from absurd to frightening in a minute. Perhaps the downside to getting to the good stuff so fast is that Jackson himself never feels like much more than a plot point. Likewise, the fact that it starts so far into their grief means missing out on the desperation before, and the reveal of what happened doesn’t have the impact that it should. Despite that, “Anything For Jackson” manages to give some excellent spooks, and a scene with a snowblower that should go into the “Fargo” Hall of Fame. The ending doesn’t have a lot of surprises, but for a movie about grief, it sure is fun.