Henry and Audrey are a typical older couple. They’re conservative in appearance and attitude, wealthy, and white. Henry’s a successful doctor, while Audrey holds things down and maintains their palatial home, happy to do things like hemming Arthur’s trousers.
Henry and Audrey are part of a satanic cult. They possess a thousand-year-old book of incantations that can be used to summon demons and, perhaps, cheat death. They’re committed to their mission – to bring their beloved grandson Jackson back from the dead, by kidnapping Shannon, one of Henry’s pregnant patients, and transferring Jackson’s spirit into her unborn child.
Justin G. Dyck’s Anything For Jackson draws it’s two protagonists so well that they come across as likeable, even as they execute their objectively ghoulish plan. Their humanizing asides about sexting and their ineptitude (or at least Henry’s) in covering up their scheme give them a rounded feel that endears you to them from the very first scene. It’s a genuine pleasure to see multi-time screen and stage award-winner Sheila McCarthy step into the role of Audrey and clearly having a great time doing so. Julian Richings, who is better known for memorable but almost entirely secondary roles in films big and small, is also allowed to stretch his legs as Henry, and his usual creepiness comes back around to charming here.
When the couple brings in Ian (Josh Cruddas), a fellow Satanist from their group, to help with a ritual gone (very) wrong, it feels like an unwelcome incursion. Ian’s actually a pretty interesting character and is played well, but I didn’t want or need him around when I’d be more than satisfied to watch Audrey, Henry, and Shannon play off one another. He doesn’t get nearly enough development or a substantial introduction – he’s just there, and that doesn’t really work with such a small and intimate cast like this, where everyone else feels well-drawn enough to be familiar.
I enjoy the way that Anything For Jackson flips seamlessly from an almost intimate drama between Henry, Audrey, and their captor Shannon to a surprisingly well-appointed creature feature. The creatures are thoughtfully designed and used just enough to inspire dread and at least some sense of awe. Meanwhile, Henry and Audrey retain their perverse charm as they bumble their way through a scheme that you know is doomed to failure, but can never quite put your finger on exactly how (and how badly) things are going to go.
Upending expectations at every turn, Anything For Jackson trips up on one of the characters it introduces in Ian, but nails Henry, Audrey, and Shannon, and even Rory, the well-meaning and mild-mannered snowplow guy (Yannick Bisson) gets to chew some scenery before the scenery starts chewing him. It’s a subversion of all the exorcism/possession films you’ve seen, and will make for a worthwhile Halloween screening for years to come.