The opening scene of Anything for Jackson sees an elderly couple discuss the mundane topic of what husband Henry (Julian Richings), a doctor, will wear to work. Moments later, Henry is bodily dragging a young pregnant girl into their home while his wife Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) cudgels her into submission. The sudden violence is so jarring compared to what immediately preceded it that it jolts the film and the viewer into life, setting out an impressive stall. Unfortunately, it’s probably also the high point of the whole venture.

It transpires that Becker (Konstantina Mantelos), the couple’s hapless victim, has been kidnapped so that they can perform a reverse exorcism and implant the soul of their dead grandson Jackson into her unborn child. In order to pull off their bonkers scheme, they’ve gone to the trouble of attending a satanic church and even journeyed to Israel to purchase a millennia-old text on summoning evil spirits. Unfortunately, despite their meticulous prep, they’ve failed to read the small print on devil worship and unbeknownst to them, their home is soon infested with all kinds of ghastly ghosts and ghouls.

These latter manifestations are undoubtedly the strongest suit of the film. There’s an extensive range of apparitions on display, including several particularly hair-raising creatures that will live long in the memory. In particular, a floss-obsessed phantom and a plastic bag-asphyxiated shapeshifter get right under the skin, while the spirits’ ability to possess visitors to the house has shocking (and blood-spattered) results on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, these spikes in adrenaline are all that really holds the interest in a film which veers between half-hearted comedy and daft exposition that fails to make you care all that much about what happens to any of the characters. The shifts in tone make the film feel a little like it’s uncertain of what it’s trying to be, which detracts from its impact as a horror, comedy or drama altogether.

Not that the cast don’t put in satisfactory shifts. McCarthy and Richings are both earnest in their attempt to portray a charming old couple so beset by grief that they’re driven to extreme lengths – but those lengths don’t seem at all congruous against what we know of the rest of their personas. Mantelos, on the other hand, is given so little to do other than look terrified for the duration that it’s difficult to get a feel for her character at all, meaning her plight invokes less pity than it might. Even the introduction of a secondary villain towards the final act is treated with such stereotypical artifice that it doesn’t pique much interest.

Of course, horror films are, by their very nature, not known for their plausible plotlines, but the incomprehensibility and illogicality of certain motivations in Anything for Jackson makes it particularly irksome. The couple’s attention to detail in some aspects is completely offset by their carelessness in others – Henry’s message to his wife informing her they have a viable candidate for capture while Becker is still sitting right in front of him is a prime example of the exasperation of some of the exposition. For all that, horror fans will probably find the ride an entertaining enough one, but it lacks the substance or the script to really make an impression on the genre.

Part of Fantasia Film Festival 2020