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BETTER THE DEVIL YOU GROW
Anything for Jackson (15)
Director: Justin G. Dyck
Screenplay: Keith Cooper, Keith Cooper
Starring: Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos
Review: RJ Bland
Grief is a key element to the set up of a number of horror films. Losing someone can reduce a character to their most emotionally vulnerable and fragile state. It can also change them fundamentally as a person and either remove their sense of purpose or give them an entirely new one. The death of a child is a particularly devastating beginning of a character arc and it provides the backdrop to films such as The Descent, Don't Look Now, The Changeling. In each instance, the central characters' struggle to accept their situation but attempt to move on (or are encouraged to by others) by throwing themselves into other pursuits, be that work or in the case of Sarah in The Descent – sperlunking! Whilst some reluctantly try to come to terms with their loss, others are so fundamentally affected that they are willing to do anything to get their child back. Even if it means doing a deal with the devil. However, there is usually a price to pay for meddling in such matters...
Audrey and Henry are a happily married older couple whose lives are shattered when their young grandson, Jackson, is killed in a car crash. Unable to process the tragedy, the couple instead decide to try and bring him back to life by agreeing to perform a demonic ritual that will apparently put the soul of poor little Jackson into the body of an unborn child. Thankfully Henry, who is a doctor, has identified one of his pregnant patients, Shannon, as a perfect solution to their problem. So they abduct her and chain her to a bed in a soundproofed room in their house. However, as the young mother's due date nears, the couple begin to realise that inviting a demonic force into your lives can have some rather troubling consequences.
Anything for Jackson is a film that deserves credit for attempting to put a new spin on the exorcism sub-genre. Whilst most of its peers are concerned with trying to force a demon out of its human host, things are turned on their head here – and there aren't many films about performing a reverse exorcism! This sense of the unexpected is something that Director Justin G. Dyck (who normally makes romantic comedies) disperses liberally throughout the film. Structurally and tonally, it feels hard to get a firm grasp of but instead of feeling like a hot mess, it largely works because the ambiguity of who you are supposed to be rooting for and the mixture of matter of fact humour and religious horror compliment each other rather well. It's also a film that delivers enough nightmarish images and unsettling sequences for the unpredictability of it all to feel suitably nervy. Although it threatens to get a little too over the top at the end, it's subversive and original enough to get through to it's creepily ambiguous ending relatively unscathed.
The following part of the review contains spoilers.
So don't read on unless you've seen the film!
Let's be honest, religious horrors are not going away any time soon are they? You only have to look back over the last few years to see that an awful lot of the most highly regarded genre films have combined faith and fear. From Hereditary and Midsommar to The Witch and Saint Maud and The Vigil, it's still clear that even though religion is fading in much of the developed world, it's still a subject that is buried deep in our psyche. It's not a fear of religion per se, it's more a fear of religious extremism and since 9/11 that's been a bit of a hot topic. It's worth saying that this fear is not consigned to Islamic extremism as Christian fundamentalism spooks some people just as much. Anyway, I digress. The challenge of films nowadays is to try and present religious horror in a new and original way and it's not an easy task. The most successful films present the subject in a grounded, realistic manner. Suggestion is always going to win out over overt visual depiction and films such as Paranormal Activity and Rosemary's Baby are prime examples that less is more. Anything for Jackson actually manages to do both. It gives us a vast array of grim images but the majority of these are tormented spirits, not demons or Satan himself. It uses these haunted house tropes to deliver on the thrills whilst still retaining a sense of mystery and intrigue around its satanic elements. The couple (brilliantly played by Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings) have an old sinister book but have no real clue what they are doing with it and it's kind of cool that we don't delve too hard into the Molloch mythology. The fact they are part of a satanic cult that meets at the back of the library infers that we shouldn't take this lot too seriously too. However, there is a something a bit more serious bubbling away under the surface here and a couple of the supernatural visions are really quite macabre. That weird bendy bloke and the woman who keeps flossing out her teeth are especially horrid. The red-headed cult member, Ian (played by Josh Cruddas) is also really, really creepy. I've never met any satanist nut jobs (well, not since lockdown) but he is pretty much how I would expect them to be. Again, he's almost absurd but there's something quite disturbing about his behaviour and look that feels chillingly plausible.
The last five minutes of the film are complete chaos and it's not entirely clear what happens. My take on it is that Ian killed Audrey so that the demon would be able to enter Shannon's baby's body. However I think the demon entered the body of Henry, hence why we saw something emerging from his body. Shannon escapes the carnage but as she is getting into a car to drive away, she sees Jackson's spirit at the window upstairs – inferring that his spirit wasn't in her unborn baby. Then as she drives away, she stops suddenly and watches what looks like some kind of strange demon/human hybrid cross the road ahead of her. She then looks down and feels her stomach and we're done. It's an ending that will leave some scratching their heads a little but I am guessing that her baby is fine and has escaped the ritual unscathed. However, a demon has managed to return to the land of the living and might be about to wreak some havoc. I might be totally wrong on that, but it's the best interpretation I have got.
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