• Through the Trees

Interview: Anything For Jackson

Director Justin G. Dyck and writer Keith Cooper talk about their disturbing reverse exorcism horror

As told to Katherine McLaughlin

The Canadian duo behind Shudder’s reverse exorcism horror, director Justin G. Dyck and writer Keith Cooper, have been working together for many years on various projects including an array of TV and Christmas movies. Their intention to make a horror film has been on the cards for about eight years according to Cooper who is a big fan of the genre. Cooper first watched Carrie at the age of three, late night on TV, and pinpoints 1985 as a seminal year in his cinema going after seeing Back to the Future and then sneaking in to see Return of the Living Dead at his local theatre.

The bulk of the filming took place in Keith’s house, with Justin’s master bedroom and basement utilised also. In addition to that they returned to the aforementioned Imperial cinema in Downtown Barrie, Ontario, they had both frequented when they were younger to film some of the scariest scenes.

“Given that it’s a low budget movie, we couldn’t get a real studio so we rented an old movie theatre for Jackson’s bedroom which happens to be the one we both grew up going to, where we both fell in love with movies”, explains Dyck. “We set it up in Cinema 3 at The Imperial Theatre. It was fantastic! We had a great little set there for about a week. We wrapped on March, Friday the 13th 2020. We wrapped the day before Canada shut down. We didn’t even rush or anything, it just happened to be our schedule. On the last week, things were getting weird. We’re north of Toronto so we were a little removed from the city. The city shut down before we did. And then we had the last few days, closed up, said our goodbyes and that night we heard all film sets were shutting down.”

Their exquisitely crafted supernatural horror features a phenomenally talented cast, including Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings, who star as a grieving couple who are suffering from the loss of their young grandson, Jackson. They turn to Satanism and a (fictional) ritual involving a kidnapped pregnant woman in order to bring Jackson back from the dead. The nicely judged and credible drama that unfolds before the horror kicks in works wonderfully in laying the groundwork to care for a desperate couple who go to extreme measures for love.

Did you do much research on Satanism for the film?

Keith: I did do some research, because I thought about it and I wanted to approach it the same way our characters did. The blessing they say at the beginning, though the ceremony itself is nonsense because it’s being held in the local town library, these people are saying it and taking it seriously so I did use their proper blessing that they open their ceremonies with. I did as much research as I could in the time that I had. We’ll see! I hope not many are offended. I hope they can appreciate I tried to get into their world a little bit.

Justin: Keith’s on some watchlists now though!

Keith: Yeah! My computer is just a little slower and there’s a van outside my house!

Justin: For me, that was the church they found and that was the path they went down, but what actually plays out in the film, with the demons that arrive, we took more from folklore than from specific Satanism. We wanted to dive into mythologies from all over the world. The demons aren’t all from the same place. The story we created here was these demons, creatures, monsters and ghosts, they exist in the world. Throughout history when people come across them or see visions of them, they create their own stories about them, so the first demon that shows up we he was in in all societies through time. It’s a mishmash of old stories of lore so the reality is not based in one religion.

When it all kicks off, it’s genuinely disturbing and upsetting, so were you playing with any fears of your own in terms of the monsters and scares?

Keith: I’ll say for myself definitely... All the ghosts are based on definite fears that I’d had. I went with a lot of phobias people have in nightmares, and the different meanings. For me, the scary stuff is what is standing there right in front of you, not really chasing you but it’s just there. Justin and I had a lot of talk ahead about jump scares, about what do we want to do that’s real life and what do we want to do that feels real. I have a background in visual effects and we were both very adamant about not putting too many visual effects in this movie at all. We wanted everything to be practical because as a horror fan I’m sure…or I hope you feel the same, because if it feels like it can actually touch you then that’s scary.

Justin: For me, the fear came from the reality of it, it’s very much a film based in grief and privilege. It was the set-up for me that I think I took mostly from my own life. And then the scares were just the icing on top, those fears coming to fruition.

How did you come up with the idea of a reverse exorcism horror?

Justin: We came up with it in a car ride home from a pitch meeting.

Keith: We lied and said we already had this movie…

Justin: They asked us for something in the supernatural world and we said yeah of course we have something set in the supernatural world! So, we got in the car and we were like, we have to come up with some supernatural stories! There’s a lot of ghost movies out there so we dove in and we were like we have to flip this thing on its head. We have to come at it from the complete opposite angle so we went through ghost movies, the subgenres, and how can we reverse each of those and thought about the opposite of an exorcism. It was that simple. The opposite of getting the spirit out is getting the spirit in. We took it from there and ran with it.

Keith: It’s really a shame that video stores don’t exist anymore because Justin and I had this beautiful little pitch package that we came up with. It had exorcism written backwards on it and there was a mirror on the other side and it was all reversed. I miss those days and no one is ever going to see that beautiful bit of marketing!

Anything For Jackson is released on Shudder on 3rd December.

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