23 January 2008


Full Credits from IMDb
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Directed by: George Ratliff
Written by: George Ratliff & David Gilbert

Grade: B-

As the latest entry into the horror subgenre of the “wicked child picture” (eg. The Omen), Joshua covers, by and large, pretty familiar territory, but it at least grounds its story in the ambiguity of reality; there’s no talk of devil spawn, portals to hell or a secret entrance to a witch’s coven behind a closet wall, merely some increasingly nefarious goings-on—only a few dead animals and a crying infant, at first—that may or not be the doing of one weird kid, the film’s eponymous Joshua.

Joshua’s peculiarity is established early on by his affinity for atonal music (which should be enough to send him for counseling), and by a scene a little later in which he tears the stuffing out of his panda doll, mimicking the funeral rites of the pharaohs. “Does he seem like your typical 9-year-old?” his mother, Vera Farmiga (fantastic), asks.

Boasting strong performances from Farmiga (hopefully the performance will be one more rung on the ladder to fame and good roles), as a woman driven madder than her bizarre son by her colicky newborn, and Sam Rockwell as her husband, Joshua still doesn’t quite work because it won’t pick sides; while obviously a horror movie, it tries to avoid being pigeonholed as another mediocre genre film by stressing its domestic-drama aspects. But too often its domestic drama is sidetracked by its stabs at being a thriller—Joshua has a tendency to pop into the frame unexpectedly (BOO!)—while its credentials as a horror film are undermined by the film’s emphasis on the pressures of child rearing.

In its favor, Joshua does make an effort to address intriguing themes; for starters, like its genre brethren it challenges the generally-accepted notion of childhood innocence, and goes even further to question the sacredness of the family unit. Sometimes, children are terrible little things, both the cause and symptom of unhealthy, unstable family units and sometimes families, Joshua suggests, can do more harm to kids, parents and grandparents than good. “All this shouting and this rage and anger,” Joshua’s grandmother says of Rockwell & Fermiga’s home, “you know, that infects a soul.”

But the real terror within Joshua is the creeping idea that family is an artifice, something people tend to hide within to calm their fears of going through life unloved. “You know,” Joshua tells his father, “you don’t have to love me. It’s not like a rule or something.” Are families arbitrary? If we don’t like our parents, can we pick new ones? Joshua’s cryptically threatening refrain is all the more terrifying for not being something commonplace, a threat of violence for instance, but rather: “no one will ever love you.” Now that’s a scary thought.

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