"Joshua" is a psychological thriller so devoid of value, it makes one wonder if someone in the acquisition department at Fox Searchlight doesn't have a drinking problem. Only a haunted, inebriated soul could watch this malarkey and suspect it possesses enough charm to unleash on a world that doesn't deserve such a cruel punishment.
Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby (Vera Farmiga) are the proud parents of Joshua (Jacob Kogan), a bright nine-year-old boy with a detachment to him that baffles the adults in his life. When a new baby is brought into the home, Joshua starts to act strangely, and soon all hell breaks loose. With Abby's postpartum depression returning in vicious ways and Brad losing his mind at his stressful job, Joshua is left with the perfect opening to wreak havoc on his family. He sets off a chain of wicked events that turns this once loving home into a place of terror and suspicion.
It's hard to imagine that director George Ratliff was one of the minds behind the near-brilliant documentary, "Hell House." A feature of enormous information and roaring dark comedy, "Hell House" was a sensibly assembled production that intuitively understood the line of good taste. Perhaps the film was a fluke.
"Joshua" knows no boundaries. Heck, it's barely a movie. Ratliff imagines the story as a wily ode to the joys of being a child sociopath; an "Omen" experience if you will, but without the Devil pulling the strings or assorted strands of operatic horror, "Joshua" is more a higher tax bracket version of "Problem Child." The concept of a nefarious youngster is a ripe one, but Ratliff does nothing with that potential. He's caught up in a self-aware ambiance of suspense that is neglectful of chills and absent a distinctive moment of conflict.
Perhaps the film would've improved if it contained a single instance of rational human behavior. I'm all for theatrical grandstanding and a suspension of disbelief, but "Joshua" doesn't care to beg for that luxury. Instead the film opts for a grotesque amount of absurdity and reckless characterization.
For example, the evil spawn watches a readily available family home video, happily labeled "Joshua," hoping to find clues to his infant experience. What's on the tape is ferocious parental discord and a POV of Abby's panicked postpartum misery...because that's just something you want to keep around for posterity, right? How about the fact that Joshua walks around like a white-collar zombie, occasionally discussing Egyptian embalming procedures and death, yet nobody seems to question his actions? In a more stylish film, a certain disregard is expected, but Ratliff directs his picture claustrophobically, putting everyone's business out there for observation. There's no leap of faith to be made here, just lazy screenwriting mechanics and amateurish direction.
I won't go into finer detail about the rest of the film, but if you enjoy knuckleheaded representations of religious belief, watching Vera Farmiga abandon every last drop of her professional integrity (her gut-busting, bloody "red boots" speech is a ready-made community theater audition piece), hearing an "Eyes Wide Shut" droning piano knockoff score, seeing an elementary school talent show lit like a Thai whorehouse, observing Sam Rockwell playing the most unperceptive husband and father figure since Ward Cleaver, and enduring Ratliff's patience-eroding stabs at underlining a character's homosexuality (he wears lavender and writes showtunes!), then maybe "Joshua" is the film for you. I found the movie to be a dreary parade of banality and witless execution, failing to join the ranks of the "Bad Seed" as a worthy addition to the kid-goes-nutso genre of questionable taste.
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