It all opens on a quiet sunny morning at the rural home of elderly couple Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry (Julian Richings). He's concerned that his wife Audrey's clumsy sewing work on the hems of his trousers is going to make him look like "some rapper guy" when he gets to the hospital where he works as a doctor.

This mundane morning banter is extremely short-lived: their discussion is soon diverted by the delivery of Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos), a heavily pregnant mother they've arranged to have abducted.

Following having been rendered unconscious, Shannon later wakes up in one of the house's soundproofed bedrooms. She's tied to the bed and gagged. A little boy smiles warmly at her from the corner of the room and then plays with his toys. Audrey sits at the foot of the bed, and proceeds to read from prepared notes which not only introduce her and Henry to Shannon but also serve as an apology for any inconvenience caused. "We don't want to hurt you or your baby" she assures the panicked kidnap victim, speaking to her quarry in an almost disarming manner. It swiftly becomes clear that Henry is familiar to Shannon as being her doctor. He'll continue to care for her in this house, Audrey assures her.

As Henry leaves home to keep his daily appointments, we see that it's snow season. There's quite a thick layer of snow surrounding the house and local maintenance man Rory (Yannick Bisson) arrives to clear the drive. Henry gently gets rid of Rory, advising him that Audrey is unwell and needs to remain undisturbed for a couple of days.

Meanwhile, Audrey informs Shannon that she's there to help this grieving couple get their late grandson Jackson (Daxton William Lund) back. "Him?", an ungagged Shannon queries, nodding towards the kid in the corner. "You can see him?" Audrey exclaims with elation, delighted that "the host" has made an appearance to their reluctant guest - it's apparently a good sign in advance of the ritual she and Henry have in mind.

Sure enough, it's soon revealed that Audrey and Henry are members of a local Satanic cult. Via flashback, we learn that the couple learned of a thousand-year-old book of incantations capable of bringing the dead back to life and, through the cult, were able to source it. After testing a spell out successfully on a deceased crow, they discover that they need a pregnant woman in order for them to perform a "reverse exorcism" which will hopefully result in their grandchild Jackson's rebirth through the unborn child.

Hence, we're brought up to speed with where we are in the present tense. And so, Audrey and Henry's ritual begins. Despite the appearance of a demonic figure at one point, afterwards the couple check the heartbeat of Shannon's baby and Audrey is convinced that Jackson is now in there, just waiting to be reborn. It seems that their spell has worked - even Shannon has survived the ordeal.

Only ... what else has their unholy incantation brought into the family home? From the following morning onwards, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not well and many strange phenomena are occurring. Throw into the mix a curious returning Rory, detective Bellows (Lanette Ware) searching for the missing Shannon and an increasingly suspicious hospital receptionist, and this elderly couple have quite a situation on their hands.

Being the mild-mannered, nice people that they are, Audrey and Henry initially take these hallucinatory horrors in their stride. But the darkness soon envelopes their home further ...

ANYTHING FOR JACKSON comes from frequent collaborators director Justin G Dyck and writer Keith Cooper, who as a double-act are renowned for soppy TV holiday films like A CHRISTMAS VILLAGE and BABY IN A MANGER. Well, this is something altogether different.

A patient and foreboding horror film which also serves as an intelligent meditation on grief, JACKSON is handsomely mounted and fluidly paced. Production design is great, very atmospheric, while the decision to contain much of the action to Shannon's bedroom confinement is an eerily wise one.

The film's real strong points, other than its intelligent (often darkly witty) screenplay, are the characters and the performances of those fleshing them out. McCarthy and Richings are brilliant as the scheming Satanists with sincere intentions: they're a fundamentally nice couple with genuine affection for one another, and the relationship between them feels very real at all times. Their grief for the grandson they lost (and their daughter, Jackson's mother) is tangible, and their rapport with Shannon is totally free from menace or malice. They simply have a task to complete as an act of pure love, whatever the cost. In lesser hands, Shannon could've been reduced to a peripheral character, but between them Mantelos, Cooper and Dyck fashion a persuasively vulnerable yet resilient and determined human being who we truly root for.

I mentioned dark humour earlier. There's plenty of that on offer. Happily, it never approaches slapstick or even outright comedy, this is a serious horror film after all. But, as an example, there's one moment when Rory calls round to the house unannounced and Henry politely turns him away at the front door while a monitor literally just out of Rory's view shows Audrey trying to restrain and sedate Shannon. It's doubtlessly not funny in text, but the way this scene plays out is so subtle that is genuinely amusing without being cloying.

Bringing metalhead Satanist Ian (Josh Cruddas) into the film's final third to hopefully help correct the couple's bungled spell initially felt like a misstep, but he does possess an undeniable presence and ends up being pretty pivotal to ensuing events.

Along the way, we're treated to a plethora of perfectly executed set-piece scares which for the large part avoid jump tactics and play on the creepy factor instead. Demons are both hallucinatory and physically manifested, with highlights including a truly disconcerting older lady flossing her teeth a little too rigorously (Marianne Sawchuck), a reoccurring child ghost (Ai Barrett) hooded in a white blanket appearing at the door cooing "Trick or treat", and - probably most imposing of all - a contorting man with a plastic bag over his head.

Someone online compared the film to Ti West's breakthrough film THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL. I can see that: it has the same autumnal ambience, and slow-burn sense of bad omens. It does, however, distinguish itself by going off on a very satisfying tangent.

Ultimately, this Canadian production is a hugely rewarding experience which comes highly recommended. The supposed antagonists have an earnest and heartfelt reason for what they're doing, and their quarry is a very believable, likeable "victim". Cliches are largely avoided, and the tone is very well gauged throughout.

ANYTHING FOR JACKSON is currently streaming exclusively on the Shudder channel. It's presented in HD and in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with perfectly clear English 2.0 stereo and well-written English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing. At 97 minutes and 29 seconds in length, it's also fully uncut. Picture quality is superb: cinematic, clean and bold.

Definitely one to watch.

Review by Stuart Willis

Directed by Justin G Dyck