Friday, January 18, 2008

DVD: Joshua

• This lost 2007 thriller is one to relish.

Genres: Horror, psychological thriller
DVD released: Jan. 8, 2008
Director: George Ratliff
Cast: Jacob Kogan, Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Shianne Kolb
Verdict: &&&&1/2

Joshua may owe a debt to movies like The Omen and The Good Son, but it is smarter than either and a welcome, witty addition to the bad seed subgenre. If it is to be called a horror film, it is because its thrills are grounded in the horror of reality — that of screaming children, sibling rivalry and the quicksand of familial despair. Young Joshua (brilliantly portrayed by Jacob Kogan) seems the perfect child for perfect young couple Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby Cairn (Vera Farmiga), who have just experienced the birth of their second child, Lily. A bright piano prodigy, Joshua exhibits a quiet aversion to the new arrival, although his emotions become more apparent (at least to the audience, if not the parents): During a family gathering as relatives preen over the infant, Joshua projectile vomits. Soon, sweet Lily begins to cry incessantly, prompting Abby to take the child to the doctor and to gradually come unhinged as Joshua exhibits increasingly bizarre behavior — performing an Egyptian ritual on a stuffed animal and playing a whacked-out rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on the piano at a school recital are a couple of mild examples. Brad, who is struggling with sinking fortunes at work, eventually becomes wise to the nefarious doings of his son (the revalatory moment, involving a videotape and a whispered, "No one will ever love you," may be the movie's creepy peak), and some finely tuned cat-and-mouse ensues. Adding layers of richness is the movie's endless wit; moments of tension are perfectly balanced with the darkest of humor, and supporting players Celia Weston and Dallas Roberts mine this territory with diabolically good results. The movie got bumped around the 2007 release schedule and never made it to wide release, but that's no surprise — the abruptly provocative ending would incense Friday night popcorn audiences. But, for viewers who appreciates a cerebral thriller, Joshua will be a topic of lively post-viewing discussion and debate on several levels (Hey! You never actually see him do anything bad!), a sure sign that a flick is well worth your time.

// DVD NOTES // Surprisingly, the disc offers a dts soundtrack. A few deleted scenes are mildly interesting but not illuminating, and the same is largely true of the interview material. The theatrical poster, shown here, is so much better than the DVD cover.

// ABOUT THE RATING // The cumulative effect of bad horror movies has taken its toll: Joshua, Stephen King's The Mist and 30 Days of Night have all been rated 4.5 here, but they would have been 4's back in the blog's early days, before all the bad ones made me feel a little more generous toward the really good ones.

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