devil worship

Fantasia Review: Anything For Jackson

Audrey and Henry Walsh lost their young grandson. In a desperate attempt to bring him back, the couple decides to kidnap a pregnant woman and perform a ritual to put their grandson’s spirit in her baby. When things don’t go as planned, it places every one of them in mortal peril.

Fantasia International Film Festival brings audiences a disturbing new tale of terror with Anything for Jackson. The film is directed by Justin G. Dyck (Super Detention, Christmas in Paris) and written by Keith Cooper (Super Detention, A Christmas Village). Most of these filmmakers’ filmography is primarily made-for-TV Christmas films, which is very different from Anything for Jackson. No time is wasted in setting up the suspense as we witness the Walshes kidnapping a pregnant woman and imprisoning her in their home. From there we slowly learn the driving force behind their actions and how it is all a desperate attempt to bring their grandson, Jackson, back from the dead. What I love about the way the plot structure is how the audience gets breadcrumbs of information and each of these breadcrumbs brings some new surprising revelation. At times these surprises can be a bit confusing because certain images aren’t fully explained. Yet it helps to bring fear to the film. It adds some depth to the story and the characters while also gradually building the terror.

Anything for Jackson also takes a deep look into the things we do for the ones we love and the consequences of those actions. Everyone in the film has a different motivation driving them throughout the story. Some of these motivations are so strong that they are willing to make any sacrifice necessary. Yet there are also repercussions, especially when dealing with dark magic. The filmmakers take a look at what happens when you don’t fully understand those repercussions, which ends up being the catalyst for much of the horror that ensues.

There are some familiar faces in Anything for Jackson and multiple great performances. Sheila McCarthy (The Day After Tomorrow, Die Hard 2) plays Audrey Welsh. Audrey is the driving force behind much of the film. McCarthy makes it quite clear Audrey is the most distraught over losing her grandson, but she also is doing her best to make sure no one gets hurt in the process. Julian Richings (Supernatural, Urban Legend) plays Henry Walsh. Henry is the more practical of the couple, which makes sense since he’s a doctor. What drives Henry is kept a bit more of a mystery. Richings plays the character in a way that is very cool and collected, yet tender and loving with his wife. With both of the Walshes, McCarthy and Richings portray the characters in a way that conveys their determination, but also makes it apparent they are not necessary evil people. Konstantina Mantelos (A Christmas Crush, Miss Misery) plays Becker, the kidnapped pregnant woman. Throughout the film the audience sees Becker go through a gambit of different emotions, and Mantelos plays the character incredibly well. These three performances create an interesting dynamic throughout the film.

This is quite the visually stimulating film. Anything for Jackson takes place in a large, uniquely designed house. It allows for strange angles and opportunities for things to lurk around every corner while also conveying the Walshes wealth. Then there are the scares. When things don’t go quite as planned, many strange entities appear throughout the house. What’s even worse is that something seems to be able to control people who are on the Walsh’s property. It creates plenty of opportunities for disturbing and haunting practical effects. There is everything from ghostly figures, to gory mutilations, to sinister otherworldly beings. All of this is created with wonderful practical effects and results in some memorable imagery.

Anything for Jackson is a terrifying story of loss, the lengths we go to for love, and the dire consequences to our actions. Dyck and Cooper make a daring and successful dive into horror with this film. It hits on the emotional notes as much as it does the frights. The film boasts strong performances, especially from McCarthy and Richings as the Walshes. Throughout the film there are many twists and turns intermixed with horrifying practical effects that are sure to disturb audiences. This film makes me hope to see the filmmakers continue in the horror genre.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February)

Nestled in the country is an all girls Catholic boarding school. Two girls end up stranded at their school during break when they are the only two whose parents fail to pick them up. The girls begin to experience strange happenings in this cold, secluded school. Elsewhere, a young woman is doing whatever she can to get to that same boarding school. As the web that connects these three girls becomes unraveled, it soon becomes clear there is something sinister at work.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (formerly known as February) was a huge accomplishment for first time directer Osgood Perkins. This is the kind of horror film that has such an atmospheric presence. You often know bad things are coming – sometimes you even know what those bad things are – yet when the moment finally happens, it is no less shocking or terrifying. Perkins, who also wrote the film, does an excellent job of revealing different plot points in a way that isn’t necessarily chronological, but in an order that helps you to understand more of the story when it is important. There are elements of a traditional devil/possession horror film present, but much of the way it is presented feels fresh. It is clear from the beginning that this film focuses more on the characters involved and creating a feeling of impending doom, rather than traditional scares. In this regard, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a masterpiece.

The three female leads in this film were incredibly strong. Keirnan Shipka (Mad Men) was absolutely haunting as Kat, the youngest of the two girls at the boarding school. As you can see from the trailer, Shipka’s portrayal of Kat moves from a lonely innocence to deeply disturbed during the course of the film. Lucy Boynton (Copperhead) was also amazing as the other girl stranded at the school, Rose. What I loved about Boynton as Rose was that she was a bit of a bad girl, but she was incredibly relatable at the same time. You felt for Rose and cared about her well being. I will be completely honest, generally I am not a huge fan of Emma Roberts (Scream Queens, We’re the Millers). Despite this, I still thought she did a great job as the mysterious Joan. Joan is clearly broken in some way and has been through a lot in her life. Roberts conveys this aspect of Joan quite well. All three actresses stood out and drew me into their individual stories.

This is the kind of film where the evil is almost entirely working behind the scenes. There are only a couple small glimpses where you see the entity that is pulling the strings. I loved the look that the filmmakers went for. The evil in The Blackcoat’s Daughter has a look that is generally familiar in the world of devil worship and possession, but they made some small tweaks to give it a bit more unique look. I also thought it was smart for the evil entity to never really be in full view; it’s shown as more of just a shadow or silhouette. In a film like this where ambience reigns over frightening imagery, keeping the evil in the background was a wise decision.

When I didn’t get a chance to see this film at Cinequest, I was devastated. Luckily it was picked up by the Phoenix Film Festival. The way the stories of the two high school girls and the wandering young woman unravel was done in such a stunning way that it leaves your heart on the floor. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a haunting tale that breaths new life into the idea of possession and the loss of innocence. By the time the credits rolled I felt stunned and awestruck. What was great about the feelings the ending invoked was that many people I spoke with got the same feeling, even though I interpreted the ending a different way than others did. No matter what you think the final scene conveys, it will still effect you in ways you didn’t expect. While I can see horror fans that prefer more scares and gore not enjoying this film as much, people who love films for the way they make you feel will not be disappointed. If this film comes to a theater near you, do not pass it up.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10