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I had been waiting quite impatiently for the release of Joshua from the
moment I saw the trailer. Unlike the people who walked out of the
theater, I was not disappointed. But that doesn't mean you won't be.
Joshua is clearly not a movie for the everyman and it never really
tries to be.
It is a story about a boy who longs to be understood by parents who choose to watch from the sidelines. The previews made the boy seem like he was just a creepy weirdo, but it becomes obvious quite quickly why he is the way he is. Joshua tells his father that he does not like soccer and baseball. In an attempt to seem open-minded and understanding, his father tells him that it's okay and that he should just do what he wants (without ever asking exactly what it is that his son wants). His mother just doesn't care as long as she's not bothered.
Dark, disturbing, creepy, but occasionally sadistically humorous, events unfold slowly (much to the dismay of people expecting shock after gratuitous shock) proving Joshua to be a far more calm and calculating boy than originally perceived. Jacob Kogan's performance is reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment in A.I. (if that character were a sadistic schemer). He is the only character who stands out and I believe this was intentional; the other characters can tell, right along with the audience, that the boy ain't quite right.
This movie is certainly not for the impatient and/or those who need to be smacked in the face repeatedly to stay awake during movies. But if you want a movie that slowly and coolly toys with your mind until the very end, Joshua will likely deliver what you are looking for.
This film is so good, I saw it twice at Sundance. Certainly the best at
the '07 festival. Unlike modern horror films, "Joshua" does not rely
upon blood and gore to deliver its impact. Director George Ratliff
weaves a tale of mounting dread and tension through stunning
performances, brilliant cinematography (for which it won the Sundance
'07 Best Cinematography Award) and haunting music.
The premise of the film is simple and genius, a parent's worst nightmare: what would happen if your 10 yr old child felt no love for you at all? As a society we fetish-ize childhood, romanticize their innocence, deify their pure potentiality, and self-sacrifice for their unconditional love. Given our biological and societal predilection/preoccupation towards nurturing our youth, could a parent possibly even understand or recognize that their child doesn't want their love? Instead of a child beaming with unconditional love and the positive youthful energy, Joshua is an empty shell devoid of anything resembling emotion and the effect is a chilling abomination. As a final hook, the question emerges, Is the kid bad because the parents secretly failed him somehow, or is the kid just pure evil? "Joshua" kept me entranced to the final frame.
The acting is monumental, especially Vera Farmiga who's battle with psychotic post partum depression is mind-blowingly realized. Jacob Kogan masters the thousand-mile dead eyed stare of the sociopathic titular character who steals every scene with a chilling, Mensa-like gravitas unusual in any actor, much less one so young. The music, mostly modern dissonant pieces played by Joshua on his grand piano, echoes Joshua's character: haunting and creepy yet perfectly composed and structured. The cinematography subtly changes as the film progresses, starting out colorful and normal, but then gradually growing darker, uglier and more claustrophobic, until the climax where the film looks like it was shot in Hell itself.
Like Hannibal, I found myself rooting for the "bad guy" who is a fascinating paradox: charming, talented, brilliant and self-composed but flawed to lack even the most remote shred of human empathy. I've heard a lot of comparisons to "The Omen," "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby," but these films have nothing in common with "Joshua" except that they are horror films dealing with parenthood gone awry. The horror element here is psychological, not supernatural, and it's interwoven with a great deal of social irony that makes this film much more fun to watch. Also, unlike those other films, the "problem child" in this film emerges as a fully realized personality, not just a plot device mostly due to the great performance by Jacob Kogan, who somehow accomplishes the impossible task of being lovable and hateful at the same time. The whole thing is directed masterfully by George Ratliff who steers the film between tension and laughter to achieve a thrilling and creepy film that is intelligent and amusing and keeps us guessing - to the end.
"Cruel children, crying babies, All grow up as geese and gabies, Hated,
as their age increases, By their nephews and their nieces." Robert
If you're thinking of starting a family, don't see Joshua. If you think your stockbroker spouse is a stable breadwinner capable of providing you a view of Central Park, don't see Joshua. If you think all your children will be lovable, don't see Joshua.
However, if you want the bejesus scared out of you by a kid so bright he could skip two grades and play Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 12 at recess, director George Ratliff, whose Hell House could have entitled this expert psychological thriller, has fashioned a hell of a cautionary tale about appearances and reality, unlovable kids and their clueless parents. The slow disintegration of an upper-middle class family is so carefully drawn that the first third of the film seems like a walk in the park with a few scrapes from some errant shrubbery. When, however, nine-year old Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan) begins missing his parents' affection, displaced to his crybaby newborn sister, strange but not too strange things happen, not easily ascribable to him.
As in most successful thrillers involving miscreant kids, even to the end is a doubt that they could be the source of the growing terror. Although comparisons to The Bad Seed and Rosemary's Baby seem fair, Kogan bears a strong resemblance to Buddy Swan, who played the young Charles Foster Kane with chilling deadpan. Kane's lifelong hang up over being separated from his family is an appropriate allusion to clarify the psychological ramifications in this film.
Although I was quite pleased with the slow exposition, because I think things unravel slowly in privileged families, the payoff ending came too quickly and without the supernatural underpinnings the buildup seemed to promise.
"Modern children were considerably less innocent than parents and the larger society supposed . . . ." David Elkind, Child Psychologist
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Joshua is a very clever, smart child. A prodigy. The problem is that
his nature demands perfection, but that his circumstances don't provide
His mother neither tries nor is able to understand his eccentricities, and doesn't genuinely care for him, giving little attention to him especially with the birth of his new born sister. This in the first place is an unhealthy sign.
His father tries to love him, but fails to meet Joshua's perfectionist standards of love. Apart from having some of his attention displaced onto the baby girl, he has one important flaw: Joshua is smarter than his dad. Joshua skips grades while his dad did not. Joshua is a prodigy on the piano while his dad listens to pop music on his earphones and doesn't notice his playing, nor his talent.
Thus he attacks his mother first, then his father. His grandmother was a means to getting his father(who is emotionally tougher than his mom); he will spare no means to carry out his revenge.
Perhaps the only person who has not neglected and ignored his talents was his uncle, who is the only one spared by Joshua.
Therefore Joshua's intelligence combined with childish revengefulness leads him to exact such a horrifying revenge. He doesn't take a knife and do bloody murder, no. He uses cold, cunning, stealthy plans to do damage. He never harms his sister, yet destroys his parents. Thus this is the cold, cunning mind of a killer in a child.
This movie is thus partly about unrecognized genius in a child. About inferior parents not understanding their child.
Joshua is a jealous kid. He knows his dad finds HIM 'weird'. He finds out he had been a troublesome baby, causing his mother great pain, this while his little sister is no trouble at all. The new baby was a relief, especially to his mother. Finally a normal child to negate the weird one.
This movie is about regress from (near) perfection to utter destruction. At the start all is perfect: everyone is cheery, relationships are in tact. Then mother goes mad. Daughter-in-law swears at mother-in-law. Dad quits job, and lands up in jail for child abuse. Relationships are torn asunder skilfully and silently by Joshua. Perhaps all this is because Josh wants perfection but doesn't get it, therefore childishly reasons that, might as well everything be destroyed.
This movie depicts civilised, educated society in its downfall. The Steinway was used by him as a tool of destruction. His knowledge of Egyptian mummies and gods fuelled his evil imagination. The book of Joshua in the bible -ironically- contributed to his desire to destroy.
This movie is also about dysfunction in civilised society: people who can't take the pressures of perfection in civilised society. Dad wants to view pornography, and flirts with his colleague, because he cannot take it. Mom cannot produce milk because she can't take it. Dad's mom looks to religion for strength to take it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are kids who are adorable, and kids who just gets on your nerve.
Joshua gets filed under the latter, with a creepy look to boot. No
offense to child actor Jacob Kogan who gets the titular role, but when
he's brooding with that psychotic glint in the eye, you just want to
throw him into a cage and toss the key out of the window.
But this demonic kid pales in comparison to The Omen's Damien, although both will score high marks for their diabolical scheming mind. The latter is the devil incarnate, but Joshua turns out to be your atypical child who feels threatened by the coming of a new born sibling. You know, the jealous rage that permeates as they perceive the lack of attention and love bestowed upon them. Dad Brad Cairn (Sam Rockwell) used to be his best buddy, but Joshua feels that his own lack of athleticism might be that barrier between them, and given his personal preference for the arts like the fondness for dark musical pieces on his piano. Mom Abby (Vera Farmiga) on the other hand, turns out to be a nervous wreck, which works to Joshua's advantage in pushing the right buttons. It's revenge of the neglected kid basically.
The movie tried to be creepy with the employment of usual shock tactics seen in most horror movies, and they do feel a little out of place here, especially when it tries to position itself as a psychological thriller. It's nothing very cerebral about it, and for the most parts, its extremely slow pace brings about a sense of frustration, especially when plot loopholes, or irrational character behaviour that you'd come not to expect, gets so blatantly glossed over, thinking that audiences are idiots.
You can't help but to feel that the story development was too contrived as incidents happen too conveniently, with nary any actual resolution except toward the inevitable ending. There's nothing chilling about it, except that you now realize that smart kids do become a nightmare when they put their noodle to the test of outwitting, outplaying and outlasting their parents. Perhaps the only saving grace here is Sam Rockwell's performance as the dad who's trying to figure everything out, and at the same time protecting the new offspring from the clutches of her now demented brother.
But seriously, all Joshua requires is a good long drawn spanking from the slipper, out of the public view of course.
completely mis-marketed as an Omen-type horror film, there's a lot more going on in this one than in most of the recent similar scary fare. first things first: there's no supernatural hoo-hah. (ah, so refreshing.) it's an unsettling, strangely plausible horror film... seemingly made especially for parents. a few plot elements bothered me, and i felt there was one misstep (involving a Dave Matthews song, btw!), but overall it was an effective chiller. Vera Farmiga as the increasingly imbalanced mother and Celia Weston as the holy-rolling but genuinely concerned mother-in-law are both excellent, and Sam Rockwell delivers another compelling and subtly idiosyncratic performance. George Ratliff, who directed the engrossing and discomfiting 2001 documentary, Hell House, shows promise as a narrative filmmaker.
This film has a quiet power to it and it is not like all the gore and torture porn that has been out there lately making money at the box office. Look, the masses want to be led like a toddler through most movies - lookee here - point A to point B to point C - get it? He's good, he's bad. Wow - watch that head explode. Yawn. I like gore too but I also love intelligent films that leave it to an audience that WANTS to think - that wants to be challenged and has to try and figure out what is true and what isn't. Sam Rockwell, Vera F (as the wife), Dallas Roberst as the uncle and the young kid as Joshua all give excellent performances. This is not a HORROR film in the sense of gore and supernatural crap. This is about a family swirling out of control with post partum depression, work pressure, meddling relatives, a disturbed child and a crying infant - and it is left up to us to decide what really happened. Slow, steady and ultimately, powerful. If you have patience and love well made, intense dramas - JOSHUA is for you.
Obviously, this film was made with some other in mind. The homage it
represents for films where kids played a key role in their unsettling
plot is, to say the least, outstanding.
You'll find out how deeply involved with "Rosemary's Baby" it is. Or with "The Omen". I won't spill the beans here. You have to watch it. It's a horrific tale. Not a horror film with all the usual gore some want to associate the genre with. This film is horrifying in many senses. And when a film really grabs you, making you think about some personal possibilities, it has accomplished it's goal.
Joshua is a film dealing with so many things it won't disappoint. Crude, raw and cruel, but really telling. Good remake and mix of great horror films, and a new species on its own.
Performances are pretty good. Vera Farmiga is surprisingly good, as Sam Rockwell is, too. Jacob Kogan, apart from being a very good piano player, is a believable and fearsome Joshua.
Pinpoint cinematography, good plot and a very suitable script that keeps the story rolling in ways you could expect and in some others you wouldn't.
I can't believe why some people walked out theatres! There's a catch with this film for American viewers: it's eons away from American traditional movie-making. This film resembles the character exploration of Swedish and French films. So, don't expect a fast paced- spectacular glossy film. It will be a slooooow film for people who just want to have some time off with a popcorn film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
...and "Joshua" is no exception to the rule. Leads Sam "Galaxy Quest"
Rockwell and Vera "The Departed" Farmiga turn in respectable work as
the harried parents of a brand new colicky baby girl, while newcomer
Jacob Kogan achieves decidedly mixed results as the young son suffering
from an exceptional sibling rivalry, but documentarian George "Hell
House" Ratliff's vision (he co-wrote with tyro David Gilbert) lacks
dramatic clarity. Syd Field would not be happy with Ratliff & Gilbert's
screenplay. It takes too long to drop the hook, lacks any real tension
to be a genuine thriller (despite some refreshingly unsettling music
from Nico Muhly and some nice DP work from Benoît "Day Night Day Night"
Debie), has little more than a few boo!s in the fright department, and
ultimately fails to satisfy with its haphazard thematic explorations
and ambiguous (or is it?) ending.
Young Kogan plays a creepy Stepford son gone bad, and is blessed to have the particular musical talent required by the script, but said script makes him more of a McGuffin than a character. He's one-dimensional and mostly inexplicable, so observably "different" that one wonders why his parents haven't noticed how thoroughly different he is from a normal 9-year-old. Then again, the script paints them as fairly lousy parents. The father's a workaholic, the mother's a neurotic mess; the gay uncle's the only family member who can relate to Joshua. It all adds up to one "oh, c'mon!" too many: how did things get to this sorry state in the first place? How has no one noticed just how weird Joshua is? Unfortunately, we never get an answer; Joshua remains an enigma to the end, and as a result, the audience has no sympathy for the beleaguered parents, nor any fears for the oblivious uncle.
With a tighter, more sensible script and better dialog, "Joshua" might well have been a genuine thriller. Ratliff's deliberately oblique direction and writing defang the narrative arc, however, and leave us at film's end wondering, as Peggy Lee once sang, "Is that all there is?"
This is a very strange and unconventional horror/thriller with fantastic performances by Vera Farmiga and Jacob Kogan. Usually kid actors in horror films bug me (I'm lookin' at you, new OMEN kid!), but this little dude totally creeped me out in a Martin Stephens kind of way. It's an excellent performance and one of the best things this offbeat movie has going for it. This movie's plot sounds like typical "Bad Seed" ground, but it twists and turns into really bizarre territory, disorienting the viewer to the point where you have no idea where it's going or where it's been. I'm still not sure if I even liked it, but it did make me feel incredibly uneasy, and I guess that's worth something.
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