There’s something deliciously subversive about the backstory to this offbeat horror film, which was made in Canada. Director Justin G Dyck and screenwriter Keith Cooper have collaborated on a long list of treacly, holiday-themed, made-for-TV movies with titles such as A Very Country Christmas, Christmas With a View and A Christmas Village. Anything for Jackson, however, is a riotously gory, impish inversion of all things yuletide, in that it stars sweet-featured elderly character actors Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings as grieving grandparents Audrey and Henry Walsh, who kidnap pregnant Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos) in order to perform a satanic ritual on her. It’s as if Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer, the little old couple who lived next door in Rosemary’s Baby, got to be the stars of their own movie.
Audrey and Henry’s goal is to channel the ghost of their dead grandson, Jackson, into Shannon’s unborn child; but, wouldn’t you know it, deals with the devil have a way of going wrong – or having nasty consequences in the fine print, such as bringing forth demons and ghosts with murderous instincts of their own. Plus, their main adviser on matters demonological is a bitter “incel”-type (Josh Cruddas) who lives with his mother and is prone to bitching about the leadership at their satanic church, an outfit quietly run out of the local community centre where members bring home-baked goods for breaktime.
Thanks to sturdy contributions from the cast, Dyck and Cooper turn this almost comical premise into an interesting work that treads the line between genres with agility. There’s a satirical streak, sure, but the forked tongue of the devil stays mostly in the film’s cheek, and in many ways it’s also a conventional horror pic. That means the usual quota of jumpscares and visual effects-shaped scary monsters, such as a contortionist ghost with a plastic bag tied over his head or a mad woman who keeps flossing the teeth, one by one, right out of her mouth.
At the same time, there’s a streak of affecting drama that emanates from the main pair, a well-to-do couple scarred by tragedy, who ultimately want to do something good but by any means necessary. Altogether, it’s a richer devil’s brew than you would expect, crisply edited and moodily shot – even if the last act doesn’t quite hit the spot.
• Anything for Jackson is available on Shudder from 3 December.