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Following the birth of his sister, Joshua, an impeccably dressed, soft-spoken, nine-year-old child prodigy, finds himself unable to cope with change. Not being the center of attention anymore, Joshua's frustration is increasingly growing, while his blissfully unsuspecting parents, Brad and Abby Cairn, cherish every moment with tiny Lily, the apple of their eye. But, the boy cries for attention, and as mysterious coincidences and ominous signs of malice and methodical manipulation damage irreparably the already fragile balance of things, a quiet but sinister undercurrent of unease drags everyone down into its unforgiving depth. What is wrong with Joshua?
When was the last time a film really freaked you out? Seriously - when was the last time you felt uncomfortable, in a good way, while watching a film? For me, it's been a long time. So, imagine my surprise when a little independent horror film called "Joshua" proved so affective. The film was distributed by Fox Searchlight in 2007, but only hit a hand full of theatres and never made a dent in the marketplace. Maybe it was just marketed poorly. Whatever the reason, the film is finally available to make your own, and it's the most intricately crafted horror film of the year. There's just so much going on beneath the surface of "Joshua", you're constantly wondering if you're even close to understanding what the film is really trying to accomplish. Just sitting this film, side-by-side, with the remake of "The Omen" - you start to see what makes an affective horror film and what makes just another run-of-the-mill slasher flick. "Joshua" hits all the right notes. It treats the audience with a level of sophistication and respect that most films are afraid to do. It creates a stark and moody atmosphere that the audience falls into right from the get-go. It's the best horror film of 2007 and one of the best films of the past year, so my list is seeing some changes.
What's the film really about? The general idea is that a young married couple, Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby (Vera Farmiga) have just had their second child and are excited about bringing a little girl into the family. Everyone is enthralled by this - Abby's brother Ned (Dallas Roberts) and Brad's parents (Celia Weston & Tom Bloom) especially. Everyone except Joshua (Jacob Kogan), their first son. Joshua is an odd child. He is a brilliant piano player for a 10-year-old, is so intelligent his teachers want to skip him two grades, is trustworthy enough to let wander about the city by himself and is always asking questions far above his maturity level. As soon as the new baby enters the picture, we see strange things starting to happen. Abby's hormones go haywire and she starts battling depression. She starts hearing strange noises upstairs, and Joshua thinks that the house might be haunted by ghosts. Brad starts having problems at work because he has to keep coming home whenever his wife has a crisis. Abby also starts to suspect that Joshua might be trying to cause harm to the new baby. At first, everyone shrugs it off - how could a 10-year-old do the things he's being accused of doing? Slowly, we start to realize that Joshua has much more serious problems than anyone could imagine, though we never know just how dark his secrets go.
Talk about atmosphere. "Joshua" creates a mood and sticks with it throughout the entire picture. I haven't seen this kind of off-kilter pacing and storytelling since Stanley Kubrick. In fact, this film has a very Kubrickian feel to it. The original score by Nico Muhly is so odd and so manipulative that it is always setting you up for a different kind of emotional pay-off. In most films, you can trust where the music is taking you. Not in this film. The sunnier and happier the score is, the more dark and sinister the destination. The art direction by Katya DeBear is stark with a narrow palette. You don't seen many vibrant colors here and it really creates a sense of the doom that is descending upon this household. It reminded me of "Birth" in terms of the production design. And, the direction by George Ratliff is top-notch, crafting a film that never reveals its tricks and never provides any concrete answers as to what is happening. Are there ghosts? Is this something to do with the Egyptian curses and stories Joshua loves so much? Is this Joshua himself? Or is it all in the head of the two parents? You don't leave the film understanding much more than you begin with, but you do have a little light shed on the story. My favorite scene in the film comes during Joshua's piano recital, where he abandons his original piece and goes with something far simpler, yet far more twisted and frightening. One of the best sequences I have seen this year, hands down.
And, for a horror film, what better casting? Sam Rockwell is just great here as Joshua's father, who is constantly supporting his son until he realizes that maybe everyone else is is right. Vera Farmiga is equally strong as Abby, Joshua's mother. She gets a phenomenal scene on the kitchen floor when she is doped up on anti-depressants, involving a broken glass and red boots. It's one of the best scenes in the film. Newcomer Jacob Korgan makes the perfect Joshua - he never overdoes it and doesn't underplay it too much. He hits just the right notes. Kudos to director George Ratliff for getting just what he wanted out of the role. As for supporting characters, the great Celia Weston is just incredible here as Rockwell's Bible-thumping mother who gets one intense scene with Vera Farmiga that leaves your mouth agape. Dallas Roberts provides strong support as Abby's brother, and then Michael McKean pops up in a small role as Rockwell's boss. What helps is that the cast isn't treating this like just another horror film. They know this is something special. If not, I doubt Rockwell and Farmiga would have signed on for it. "Joshua" defies all stereotypes and just when you think it's going to follow the traditional routes, it surprises you at every step.
Watching this film, it's also hard to believe this film cost more than $10 million to make. It is so minimal in scale, with much of the action taking place inside the apartment. It reminded me quite a bit of "Rosemary's Baby", in terms of the minimalistic quality. The actors venture outside every now and again, but this was probably made for a meager budget, which makes it even more sad that is couldn't find a larger audience in theatres. The one hope is that it can find a cult audience now that it is available to the masses. It certainly deserves it. I can't remember feeling this awkward and uncomfortable during the whole of a film in a long time. Typically, that feeling will let up every now and again. Not with "Joshua". I was on the edge of my seat the entire time waiting on some new horrible thing to happen. As mentioned earlier, I recommend "Joshua" to Stanley Kubrick fans who want to see a film that borrows heavily in style from the master. By the end of the film, you'll never listen to the piano the same way again. "Joshua" is the finest horror film of the year, and yes I do consider it a horror film. It's also one of the best all around films of the year too. Of course, it would come along right after I compile my list for the year. Guess it gets changed now.
- added 03/14/2008, 04:37 PM
I was expecting this to be a little like the
Omen, but it actually wasn't really like that- it
was more subtle, creepy, and psychological. The
kid who plays Joshua, Jacob Kogan, does a very
good job for his age, and I thought the mom (Vera
Farmiga) was also very good. Some people may be
weirded out by what Joshua does and says at times
(teddy bear mummification.....) but it makes the
movie all the more creepier.
- added 02/04/2009, 06:36 PM
This was generally a good effort... but felt a
bit flat in the last reel for my tastes.
found it to be fairly by the numbers as far as
"creepy kid" thrillers go... the viewer
is never really convinced of the innocence of the
young boy from frame one... perhaps it's his
overly affected acting. I could see every twist
in this film long before it ever took place and
actually found the last quarter painful to sit
through as it was so by the numbers as far as
these types of films go. My God... the last park
scene was so obviously set up that it hurt my
teeth to watch it...
causes for alternate solutions here... it's made
creepily apparent from the opening scenes that
this kid is severely demented, and the young
actor's wooden stereotypical portrayal doesn't
help matters any.
crafted, my ass... seriously folks, watch this one
again and see if you feel the same way about
Maybe I'm just being too
critical... but something tells me that this film
didn't fare well commercially because it simply
isn't all that compelling.
- added 02/05/2009, 11:14 AM
It didn't fare well commercially because it
wasn't given a wide birth theatrically and it
wasn't given a wide birth theatrically because
most films like this don't typically perform well
without a larger star attached. I think
'intricately crafted' is an appropriate statement.
This film felt more akin to Hitchcock than any
film like it. I thought it was a cut above all of
the other films of this nature. I believed the
performances, I believed the progression of the
plot and just loved the music throughout.
Agree to disagree, of course.
- added 02/06/2009, 12:30 AM
I agree with your regards for the music for
sure... but I still felt it was fairly by the
I'm no genius, but there wasn't a
twist in this film that I didn't see coming a mile
I will surely concede that
Mrs. Farmiga's performance throughout the film was
exemplary ("red boots"... gotta love
that scene)... but both the kid's wooden
performance and Sam Rockwell's phone-in acting
job felt budget bin to me... so the film on the
whole suffered for it.
Of course your
comments regarding the film's limited release
speak volumes... but we don't know FOR SURE that
the studio knew what they had on their hands and
were simply cutting their losses...
As you said, agree to disagree... I guess that
I've just seen the same subject done more justice
and reflected that disappointment in my comments.
PS: The term is spelled "wide
berth"... and I think that you might be using
it incorrectly here. When a film is given a wide
berth, it implies that the studio simply stayed
away from it... while you said that it WASN'T
given a wide berth... and I think that you meant
the opposite. Regardless, I think that I get what
you meant... and you certainly might be right.