Directed by George Ratliff
Written by George Ratliff and David Gilbert
Sam Rockwell as Brad Cairn
Vera Farmiga as Abby Caim
Celia Weston as Hazel Caim
Dallas Roberts as Ned Davidoff
Michael McKean as Chester Jenkins
Jacob Kogan as Joshua Cairn
Nancy Giles as Betsy Polsheck
106 Minutes(Rated R for language and some disturbing behavior by a child.)
Within the genre of horror, there is a sub-genre that could be referred to the "creepy kid genre." These films include a kid or group of kids who are all effected by some kind of an evil force. They usually dress in nice clothing, and enjoy staring straight ahead at others without making any facial gestures, and speaking in a dull and monotonous tone. Usually they are plagued by some sort of a supernatural curse. For example, in "The Omen," the child Damien is the son of the devil. The title character in "Joshua" is a perfect example of the creepy kid genre, with one little exception-Joshua is just a really evil child and there are basically no real reasons for his creepiness. This is just the type of person that he is.
"Joshua" is a well-crafted and effective psychological thriller-sort of like a much creepier and more indie version of "The Omen," and only briefly touching upon religious themes just to keep the viewer guessing a little bit. It is one of those rare films that really does make you think about what you are watching before, during, and after the credits have rolled. And its one of those films that lays out a certain amount of pieces in front of you forcing you to put them together however you wish upon its completion. Leading the perfectly casted film are Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga. Rockwell, who has already established his greatness in my eyes with performances like "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Matchstick Men," and the upcoming "Snow Angels," perfects another lead performance as Brad Cairn, an overworked man who suddenly drops everything one day, grabs his nine year old prodigy son Joshua, and goes to the hospital, where his beautiful wife Abby-played by another rising actress Vera Farmiga-has her second child, Lily. When they arrive back to their posh Manhattan apartment, they begin to notice odd changes in Joshua's behavior. He is asking questions-did it hurt, Mommy?-and making odd comments-Daddy, you don't have to love me. It's not like its a rule. Brad does not seem to notice, and the rising problems at work block out any notice of the problems at home. And then Joshua's actions get darker and darker. And to make things worse, Lily cannot stop crying, driving Abby onto the verge of a nervous breakdown. Abby recalls her experience when Joshua was younger, and his constant crying put it on the brink of insanity. Brad begins to notice Joshua's behavior-his drawings of bloody people, how things slowly start to die around him-and he refuses to let him out of his sight until all of his questions are answers. That is, if he could survive. . .
It is wrong to market "Joshua" as a "horror film" because that will make people believe that this is another "Omen," and that they could expect a large amount of blood and gore. They will be sorely disappointed. The core of "Joshua" is a family drama, and a dark one at that. This is a family that looks like they are perfect-the films early amount of bright colors and wide open shots seem to be an open display onto their home. And then as it deepens in plot and conflict, the film becomes a little more closed in, and every single shot seems to be of a closeup. Although the film is titled after the son, this is really the story of Brad and his realization that not everything is what it seems. The film arcs around his discovery, and by the end we realize that we really do not know much about Joshua at all. Why is he like this? Was he always like this, or just after the birth of his sister? The films asks more and more questions, and only bluntly answers some of the them. The rest are for you to discover. The color scheme was also brilliant to watch, and I was not surprised to find out that this won an award for cinematography as last year's Sundance Film Festival. The light to dark look really does change the whole tone, and the blue light that emits constantly from Joshua's bedroom just makes us await the evil that is coming.
I was rather impressed with Jacob Kogan's performance as Joshua. Usually in these "creepy child" films, I am found laughing at the acting of the creepy kid in question more than being scared. There is just something about the pale makeup on the boy, as well as the overacting that they usually do that make them more comical. The only times that I was laughing throughout this was at something intentional, and never at the fault of young Kogan, whose creepiness is always effective. It was also fun to see Michael McKean as Rockwell's boss, even if he is limited to about four scenes, all of them under a minute. I wondered if his part was trimmed down a little bit.
The screening that I attended was a special advanced showing at Lincoln Center-the film actually opens this Friday, July 6th. Even though the screening was packed, I just don't think that "Joshua" will be a very big hit-at least not compared to the standards that Fox Searchlight would expect from their own product. But those that see it will be in for a treat. The screening I attended had members of the cast, the director, and a producer-but the two actors that I really did wish could be there-Rockwell and Kogan-were absent. In their places were Vera Farmiga-who looks just as good in person as she does on the screen-Celia Weston, who plays Brad's mother, and Dallas Roberts-in the important role as the boy's uncle. While the moderator was pretty terrible at asking questions, and quite keen on twisting the whole film into an anti-Bush allegory-which director Ratliff seems interested in staying away from-the little anecdotes from the cast-including Farmiga's mimicking of her sister who was going through a nervous breakdown during the filming of this-made for a worthwhile thirty minute questions and answer.
"Joshua" should find its audience, hopefully, and has the chance of being a minor success. It's a film to see if you want a long discussion later on. It's a film to see if you don't mind not having all the pieces laid out in front of it. At the end of the film you will have questions, and the answers should come from within. To accept that Joshua is actually pure evil is the first step. This is one of the most creative and intriguing little thrillers to come out on the indie circuit in some time-and a quite impressive at taking a familiar story and putting a different spin on it.