Wednesday, 11 July 2007
Joshua (2007) dir. George Ratliff
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga
“Joshua” is psychological thriller, described by many critics as Hitchcockian. There are subtle differences but Michael Haneke or Roman Polanski might be a closer comparison. It’s slow and stealth. Very disturbing but not graphic or horrific.
Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga are Brad and Abby Cairn, two Park Avenue residents of NYC and parents to Joshua (9) and their newborn infant Lilly. Immediately Lilly is given more attention than Joshua. Perhaps the parents assume because Joshua is smart and overachieving he can take care of himself. Joshua is in fact treated like an adult and receives very little caring and nurturing like most kids. Joshua starts to exhibit signs of sociological behaviour problems early on, but the parents are so wrapped up in caring for Lily they fail to heed the warning. Bad idea. Soon Joshua starts reading and talking about violent stories, playing depressing gothic melodies on the piano and dabbling in amateur taxidermy and mummification.
Without the overt references of "The Omen", Joshua is made out to be a Damian-like child – a plague on their lives. Abby starts suffering the same post-partum disorder with Lily as she had with Joshua. Abby is prescribed drugs to heal her pain, but it only worsens her condition eventually causing her to develop delusions that Joshua is trying to kill Lily.
Brad is caught in the middle of the family trying to remain his sanity and composure while also trying to hold down his investment banking day job. Joshua’s deviousness eventually gets under Brad’s skin as well. Slowly his life unravels as well. By the end it becomes a mind game battle between Joshua and Brad, with Josh having the upper hand.
It’s a fine performance from youngster Jacob Kogan who plays Joshua. Unfortunately his character is rarely given any depth or weight. We always see him as a stuffy, school uniform wearing, unsmiling kid. Imagine Tucker Carlson as a nine-year. From the outset he is clearly an unbalanced mental case who will someday turn his delusions of violence into the real thing. He is given only a couple of scenes which humanize him, otherwise he's a complete robot through the entire film.
“Joshua” is almost as funny as it is creepy. Director George Ratliff managed to squeeze multiple fits of short laughter from the crowd I was with. I don’t know if it was intentional, since most of the laughs came from the ridiculousness of the situations Brad is working himself into. They also come out of the joy of the filmmaking skill on display. The film is very manipulative because it shifts points of view when it wants to amp up the fear factor. For most of the film we have an omniscient view into the family. But in the moments of suspense around Joshua’s manipulations, we are conveniently put in the point of view of the parents. For example, the game of hide and seek is a tremendous sequence of silent terror. I do have to knock Ratliff for falling back on some of the older tricks in the book though, namely the refrigerator door reveal trick. I think he did that twice. But since this is his first dramatic feature George Ratliff is a filmmaker to watch out for.
“Joshua” will not appeal to broad audiences, especially women thinking of starting a family. Guys, it’s not a date movie. I’m saving you the painful car ride home. The film is pure cinema and a filmmaker’s film. It’s quietly disturbing but doesn’t have the satisfactory moments that will please the regular horror film crowd. It’s for discriminating tastes – the people who ‘enjoy’ the psychological torture of Michael Haneke.