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"Joshua" is "Fatal Attraction" for the indie crowd. There's a formula
here, and for the most part, the film sticks to it. But because it's
not a big studio production, the filmmakers are allowed to have a
little fun with it. And, unlike, "Audition," the changes work.
Brad and Abby Carin (Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga) have just welcomed their new baby girl, Lily, into their family. They already have one son, Joshua (Jacob Kogan), and a dog. But this happy family begins to generate tension: Abby has post-partum depression, and it's getting worse. This leaves Brad to balance the stressful homelife AND the office. Brad brings in his mother Hazel (Celia Weston) to help, and his brother-in-law Ned (Dallas Roberts) is also on call when the need arises. But in the midst of all the chaos, everyone's forgetting about little Joshua...
The most important thing in a movie like this is a good villain, and let me tell you, does this film have one! Joshua, as played by Jacob Kogan, is seriously creepy. Without saying a word, Kogan can make your blood run cold. Some people may find this to be a "spoiler," but in this type of a movie, it's a given.
The rest of the cast is good as well. Vera Farmiga is excellent as Abby. A lesser actress would have gone over the top when portraying her volatile mood, but Farmiga portrays Abby without a hint of artifice. Sam Rockwell, one of the many stars on the rise, is equally good. His part isn't as showy as Farmiga's (or Kogan's), but Rockwell is terrific as Brad, who's a loving husband and father with a relentlessly positive attitude and easy-going personality. Still, this film belongs to Kogan.
There are two things that elevate "Joshua" from routine to near brilliant (other than a creepy Kogan): believable characters and scares. Brad and Abby react to the stresses of raising a newborn realistically. It's not just what they do, it's how they do it: everything they do seems completely real and natural. Credit must go to the actors for pulling this off. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the scares come from situations that could easily come from real-life. I'm not going to tell any of them here, but take my word for it.
George Ratliff does wonderful work here. He has complete control of his actors, and he fully utilizes Kogan's facial features for optimal effect (this is key in a film, ESPECIALLY in a thriller). However, there are a few (albeit minor) problems. The background piano noise runs for far too long in the beginning, so long that it becomes annoying. Secondly, he seems to forget about Joshua for long periods of time. Why would a film ignore its central character? "Joshua" has gotten polarized reviews. But if you ask me, see "Joshua." Kreepy Kogan will give you nightmares for weeks.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is amazingly brilliant yet disturbing at the same time. I
can clear things up for anyone who need it about the end of the movie.
Near the end of Joshua the uncle seems like he cares a great deal about
his nephew Joshua which all in all he will no matter how sick he is. I
can assure you the uncle is not in on the scheme of setting the parents
up (his brother-in-law aka the dad of Joshua and his sister the mother
of Joshua). Although they make it seem like that at a couple points in
the movie such as when the dad asks who left the mark on his lower
back? And in the very end when the uncle seems like he cares so much
and is sort of happy to be getting custody but IS NOT really happy
about all of what happened at all. When Joshua starts to sing The Fly -
by DMB in the end, the uncle looks at him and thinks about how his
brother could be right about Joshua setting them up and being sick and
pushing the Grandma(Nunu), but then turns and thinks no, not possible.
Then roughly 30 seconds later after telling Joshua they should compose
something together Joshua starts playing the song better than even the
uncle himself knows the song, singing the song until the movie ends
with his uncle having that look in his eye, like oh my lord my
brother-in-law was right! I mean honestly you never really know because
it doesn't clarify it enough which is part of what makes this movie
brilliant, but that's what it looks like it leans towards to me and
also that is what I would like to think.
This movie is genius.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I many ways, I liked Joshua. There are some similarities to "The Good
Son", but where that film relied more on star quality and a mediocre
script, I feel Joshua's strengths lie in good acting (I think Kogan's
does a great job), decent writing, and the way the film makes the
viewers think (a quality that's lacking in 99% of any Hollywood
product). There's a scene that shows the father asking how intelligent
his son is. The vagueness of the answer makes you think hard about
things you've already seen happen.
I was amazed as I watched Kogan's performance. I believe he might be a better actor, than Haley Joel Osment was at the same age, which is saying a lot, since HJO is one of my favs. The other actors did a fine job as well. I think because people have come to expect action scenes in any type of thriller, that they may not enjoy this for what it is; a psychological thriller. It's very interesting to watch how everyone is manipulated throughout the film.
I did find flaws. Otherwise my rating would be higher. One of the most obvious, was the horrible lighting in some scenes. A couple of times, I could hardly even tell what was happening. But, this did not take away my interest. Another flaw that stood out to me, was the different reactions from certain characters, to certain actions by Joshua, or by what was happening around him (which was still caused by him). The way the social worker reacted, was very odd to me. But, I don't live in NY, and I've heard some of the horror stories about the social service system, and what kids are put through, so I could be wrong. I thought the producers did a great job making the film very believable, that could happen in everyday real life. It also would have been better, if some things were not very predictable. Then again, maybe because we've gotten 100+ years of movies/TV, that our personal knowledge base makes it impossible for writers to make scripts that have any surprises anymore.
There were build-ups, that made you feel something was about to happen, only to feel slightly cheated, when there was no action. Again, that is because this is a film to make you think, not one to boost your adrenaline or testosterone levels. To me, it was very enjoyable to watch a film that I had to actually pay attention to details.
I had to keep asking myself, how intelligent can this 9 yr old boy be? I had to wonder what he was going to do next. How was he going to get what he wanted. And most of all, what was his goal or motivation? The main thing that stuck with me, after seeing this, was the ending. I was very disturbed by his relationship to his uncle. Although there was no indication or reference, I had to wonder if this was the root cause of Joshua's psyche. Maybe that was one of the writer's intentions. But, for me, it was the final flaw (my perception). I think that there will be many different reactions and opinions, which is what is desired from a great movie.
I highly recommend this to anyone who is mature enough to understand the film, whether they be young or old. :)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
JOSHUA (2007) *** Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Jacob Kogan, Celia
Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael McKean. (Dir: George Ratliff)
Sibling Rivalry: A Study in Terror
What is it about the need for sibling rivalry in families? Is it simply that one child cannot justify the others' existence except for a battle to be more loved by their parents or is it something altogether an innate, knee-jerk response to a situation that is inevitably stacking the deck against the other in the give-and-take of familial favoritism jockeying for position of good standing?
Well the answer is not necessarily found in this disturbing, under-the-skin creepy socio-horror film focusing on an NYC Yuppie couple's newborn daughter brought back to their upscale Central Park West environs and their preternaturally bright, but clearly unstable, young son, Joshua (newcomer Kogan, a real find).
The couple, Brad and Abby Cairn (fully fleshed out turns by Rockwell and Farmiga, respectively, both giving career high performances here), are resettling their nest with their new bundle of joy and neglecting to notice how their eldest child is apparently not too pleased with his sudden shift to 'second' favorite child, with all their energies focused on the infant they've welcomed into the world.
Joshua is a smart-beyond his years child but he is taking a dark turn with his studies (he takes to the Egyptian method of embalming mummies after a class study breaks his void of finding a niche in something to peak his interests). He's also keenly aware of how his mother's post-partum depression is crippling her sensibilities to the point of mania, manipulating his love for her by picking away at her weak spots (i.e. the baby's constant crying jag that is threatening her sanity) and he can see he is indeed smarter than his father (or so it seems).
While hedge-fund organizer Brad is busy at the office he is not as neglectful as it first appears. He clearly loves his family, has a strong if slightly estranged relationship with his devoutly Christian mother (Weston), and enjoys his high-pressured job even if his jerk boss (McKean) can barely tolerate Brad's paterfamilias peccadilloes.
When things begin to get difficult (Abby is placed into an institution after an accident causes her to become dependent on painkillers and other meds, and a scary hide-and-seek game with Joshua putting her over the edge), Brad finally sees the forest for the trees and puts a plan into action to keep his baby safe from harm; by any means necessary.
The strong acting by the leads buoys the borderline black comedy/camp factor by a thread when the suspense is driven by filmmaker Ratliff, in his first feature film - he helmed HELL HOUSE, a docu on a Christian amusement park aimed at scaring sinners straight whose screenplay with David Gilbert, another rookie, drives the reality based terror of the aforementioned post-partum depression, family responsibility and the defense mechanism of survival by any means. The eerie, piano jangling score by Nico Muhly and Benoit Debie's foreboding camera-work provide some goosebumps of dread to prick the surface.
Rockwell, one of my personal faves and perhaps the most underrated of his (and my) generation, is excellent. The bantam actor walks with a dancer's grace, his retro do suggesting a hep cat who is happy with himself in the world, and sharp features blend nicely into his Brad, who feels his edge on things dwindle not unlike Farmiga's Abby, who has the difficult role of a somewhat unsympathetic character (i.e. a mom incapable of caring for her children to the point of insanity) but acts up a storm in her unorthodox turn.
Both make you feel for their desperation and ultimately their last-ditch efforts of keeping their sanities in lock-step.
There are distinct echoes of supernatural based 'bad seed' films like THE OMEN (dapper, sober-faced lad with a lethal feel about him; check) and ROSEMARY'S BABY (spooky Upper West Side digs and female protagonist's waif 'do; check) but the line stops there, thankfully, not falling into an easy out (it's The Devil's Child!) but more like a really decent "TWILIGHT ZONE" episode.
However the film's final moment feels like a cop out and not an entirely believable close to an otherwise unnerving, nasty slice of the American Dream becoming the American Nightmare.
Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, do not expect this
story to unfold Hollywood-style. I thought Joshua would be like The
Omen but it is more correct to call it a 'psychological thriller'
because what's scary in this film is really all in your mind. Thrills
come in the uncertainty and expectation of your fears exposed on
screen. Joshua doesn't rely on any creepy special effects, so the
effectivity only lasts for as long as you expect the worst.
Joshua is about how a weird 9-year old boy (Jacob Kogan) affects his family when his parents (Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga) dote on his newborn sister. At first it seems like he is just acting out his jealousy, but his ultra-proper manner makes the mundane extra creepy.
Kogan looks like Mandy Moore but somehow pulls off the empty and sometimes evil facial expressions necessary for his character. Farmiga impressively transforms from her glam role in The Departed to a mess of a mother undergoing post partum depression. Rockwell as Joshua's father is charming and likable enough and appears to be the only normal one in the entire cast.
The homage to the famous Odessa steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin became at first laughable but jarring soon after.
The story is pretty simple, overstretched and heavily ridden with plot holes but the film is undoubtedly beautifully shot; the intermittent piano playing makes you feel heady even when there is just slice-of-life silence.
These two current movies both have boy protagonists (Joshua is eleven
and a half and Vitus is ultimately twelve) who happen to be both
intellectually brilliant and piano prodigies. 'Joshua,' a psychological
thriller with horror overtones, is scary and depressing. 'Vitus' is an
upbeat fairy tale children could watch, if they can read subtitles:
dialogue is mostly in Swiss German and Hoch Deutsch (with a little
English). Neither of these films is quite an unmitigated success, but
both have interesting things to say about the plight of being
super-smart and prematurely accomplished. Maybe Joshua just wants to be
loved; Vitus says he just wants to be a normal boy; but fortunately,
there's more to it than that in both cases. Together these are two
poles of attitudes toward such young people.
Joshua's posh Upper West Side "haute bourgeoisie" or "über-yuppie" life takes a dive when a new baby enters the scene. His college-boy-jovial hedge-fund-trader dad Brad (Sam Rockwell) is videoing the infant, and when Joshua ((Jacob Kogan) plays one of his virtuoso pieces, they just ask him to quiet down. Also present in that first scene are his born-again grandma (Celia Weston) and his gay musical show-biz uncle (Dallas Roberts). The uncle is the kindred spirit in the room.
It's funny: both Joshua and Vitus wear little suits and have tidy mops of hair and seem a bit undersize for their ages. But Joshua is a bad seed who spins out an aura of evil and fear off the screen as time goes on, while Vitus is geeky and a prig (for a while anyway) and has a lust for his baby sitter that's at best nutty, but he's otherwise ultimately sweet. Joshua brings down his family, and Vitus saves his. Vitus becomes a successful entrepreneur, and learns to dress casually.
Joshua is like an incubus. He just stands there, sometimes scaring Brad or his mom Abby (Vera Farmiga) by popping up behind them. His face and voice are without affect. Even when he says "Mommy? Daddy? I love you," it's creepy.
Vitus is distant too, initially anyway. He doesn't fit in at school and insults his teachers. But as a small child he has a down-to-earth babysitter, Isabel (played by Kristina Lykawa, later by Tamara Scarpellini), and they enjoy hanging out together. She gets fired and replaced by his English mother (Julike Jenkins), who has blossomed into a controlling stage mom. But where Joshua only occasionally sees his simpatico uncle, Vitus gets to spend a lot of time with his wonderfully relaxed and entertaining granddad (Bruno Ganz, anything but a Hitler this time) , who makes things and goes on walks with the boy and talks about his dreams of being a pilot way back when.
Bad things start happening in Joshua's household from day one (the film takes us, rather harrowingly, through 70-plus). The baby is fine for less than a week when she begins to cry constantly, which brings Abby back to the shaky state she was in during Joshua's early stages--and then some. Perhaps if they'd found an older nanny for the kids, or just the baby, and paid more attention to Josh, the household would not have come apart. Joshua has some very suspenseful moments. You may think the boy will go for the baby, but that's a red herring. His methods are more devious than that and involve night vision film-making, Egyptian methods of mummification, and a performance of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" that is redesigned as if composed by Bartok. (Like the two boys who play Vitus, Fabrizio Borsani and Teo Gheogiou, the boy who plays Joshua, Jacob Korgan, is a genuine piano prodigy).
'Joshua' has a good, ironic sense of its eastern urban white milieu, and though it may fizzle away a bit at the end, it does make you genuinely uncomfortable. This independent first film by Ratliff uses the conventional sound effects and disintegrating set devices of the horror film in fresh ways. But making Joshua into a monster limits where things can go. Rockwell, Farmiga, and Westson are good insofar as they avoid drifting into caricature. Ratliff previously made a documentary about fundamentalist Christians, and the grandma's attempt to "save" Joshua becomes a realistically creepy element. She gets her reward. This is an indictment of insensitive parents, but its picture of a wunderkind demonizes the type.
'Vitus' is a softer world, but this boy is suffering too. In a way his burly dad Leo (Urs Jucker), who creates hearing aids and becomes CEO of a company, is another version of the squash-playing yuppie represented by Sam Rockwell, but he seems more present. The problem is Vitus doesn't fit in in school and then his mom takes him from his childhood piano teacher, who he says he loves, to a famous lady who declares "a rational mind and a warm heart, those are what make a great pianist." "That's why I want to be a vet," Vitus answers, refusing to play for her or become her student. Eventually he contrives to stage an accident after which he seems to have lost his special talent and his high IQ. He precedes to carry out some exploits with his granddad that lead to the film's conclusion. This could be rather fun for a young viewer, though some American critics have found this charming story "simplistic" or "sappy." It does perhaps leave you a little flat because its feel-good finale is too fanciful. 'Joshua' is a film that's riveting and disturbing: its narrow horror focus makes for a concentrated effect. But it's much more fun to watch 'Vitus, which brings up the same issues--about how it's tough to be exceptional--without demonizing brilliance. Teo Gheorghiu may be a little but nerdy, but he has a sensitive face and delivers his lines in ways that are sprightly and nuanced.
The acting is mechanical. There are no believable relationships in the
entire film. Vera Farmiga is the only one in the entire project that
seems to put any effort into it. It was kind of like watching a play
with a single cast member on stage with a dozen cardboard stand-ups.
Do not even begin to compare Jacob Kogan with Haley Joel Osment, it's insulting. THIS FILM IS NOT A "BIZARRE SIXTH SENSE" type film. It's just bizarre. And by bizarre, I mean it's not worth watching.
Really really bad audio. I suggest Mr. Ratliff use more than one solitary boom mic for the entire film. Oh, and sound recording software more advanced than say, windows sound recorder.
Dropped story lines. Unexplained plot elements. Abrupt meaningless ending. 6.0 of 10? The movie does not even live up to it's own tag line. are you kidding me? I give it a 2. (one on each hand; guess which one.)
Mr. Ratliff appears to have adopted the mantra of every amateur filmmaker in Europe:
1) If I just leave things out, it automatically becomes mysterious 2) the moviegoer will be forced to fill in the missing pieces 3) relieving me as a writer and director the burden of having any talent 4) use the tried-and-fail method of the abrupt and ambiguous ending so everyone thinks that all the foregoing shortcomings were intentional
Of course Sundance liked this one, because this is typical faux snob fare. Pretend that something ridiculous is actually meaningful, and everyone thinks you see something deeper than there actually is, and hopefully that will make you look sophisticated while everyone else becomes insecure because they don't understand as much as apparently you do. Furrow your brows and try to look slightly saddened, to add to the effect. If your vacuity catches up to you, just explain that you were "lost in thought" and shamble hurriedly away.
No. There is no deeper, profound meaning here. Just a poorly written, poorly directed script that fails in every aspect. Don't let Sundance or the Eurotrash snobliks fool you.
SKIP THIS ONE and re-watch the original Exorcist, which is infinitely better, and which Ratliff would do well to watch 666 times in a row before he tries anything 'scary' again.
I apologize for ranting, but I am seriously irritated that the cable channel guide gave this one 3/5 stars, so I wasted an hour and forty minutes waiting for it to earn even one star. I really want my 106 minutes back.
Finally thought of something positive about this film. After seeing what kind of miserable trash actually gets produced, I'm inspired to write scripts now, because I know I write far better material than this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Watching Joshua's parents suffer will make you want to pull out your
own hair as much as they want to pull out theirs.
The premise of the film is that normal (if not better-than-normal) parents might bear and raise a boy who is brilliant, unloving (if not flatly hateful), and bent on ruining everyone's lives, beginning with that of his newborn sister. Layered into the script are work pressures, postpartum depression and religious fanatic in-laws...insanity looming from every direction. While most horror films get their scares from surprise or gore, Joshua puts you on edge -- and never lets you relax -- with an ingenious script, excellent acting, and direction that enervates you, one neuron at a time.
At one point in the film my date whispered, "This is creepy on so many different levels." Afterwards...two days later, no less...she was still asking, "Is it possible to have a kid like that?" I reassured her, "No, no." I hope I'm right.
The directing and acting are every bit as good as the script. Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga deliver convincing performances as parents Brad and Abby Cairn. Farmiga's performance, in particular, would make any childless woman think twice...or thrice...before traveling the path of momhood. Michael McKean (as Brad's boss, Chester) provides off-beat levity, and Celia Weston (as the Tammy Faye Bakker-alike mother-in-law) is maddening. And then there's Jacob Kogan as Joshua. You haven't met a harder-hearted, more conniving or more malevolent baddie since Rebecca De Mornay played the nanny out to destroy a family in "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle." If that film creeped you out, Joshua will, too.
Joshua will likely leave many audience members piecing together elements of the story and questioning preconceptions about parent-child bonds long after leaving the theater. If you fear your child enough, would you hate him? And if you hate him enough, would you want him dead? From the opening credits to the lyrics of the final song (by Dave Matthews, no less), the film is a brilliant, calculated and disturbing work. Just as it should be.
This is a smart psychological horror film. An upscale NYC couple bring home their new baby and their older child -- a nine-year-old boy prodigy -- starts acting extremely creepy as suspicious accidents and odd behavior increase. Director George Ratliff creeps you out without any significant blood or gore, making this movie a lot more like Rosemary's Baby than, say, The Omen. With a smart script and great performances by everyone, including Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga and the kid playing Joshua, the only downside to this movie is a rushed "and-then-it-ends" anti-climax that I found unsatisfying. Still, this is worth a look if you like scary movies.
This was a a movie that holds your interest and leaves you guessing
even at the end. Either he was ignored by his parents which is a form
of emotional abandonment. They clearly were self centered and were
caught up in themselves. The gloves at the end under the kid's bed was
disturbing which would insinuate there was some kind of sexual abuse
going on. The psychologist said the kid's pictures indicated that. So
my take on the movie is that the Uncle was the only one who loved the
kid, but in a warped way. That would explain the comment at the end
about why the Uncle made that comment about how it is a special
relationship between siblings at the end.
Yeah I think this film is clearly about sexual abuse on multiple fronts. The Uncle and his sister as to why she was so messed up as a mother.
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