Monday, September 1, 2008

Movie Review: Joshua


Starring: Jacob Kogan, Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, and Dallas Roberts

Directed by: George Ratliff

Writers: David Gilbert and George Ratliff

Production Company: ATO Pictures

Release Date: January 2007 - Sundance Film Festival

Let me go ahead and admit a prejudice before I start...I hate child actors. Not personally, you know, it's nothing personal. I've never met one...but the concept is to me like that elderly social studies teacher, Mrs. Fromgardener, you know her, with her gray hair tied back in a bun and when she writes on the chalkboard, no matter what, the chalk squeaks...So on the test when you get the question, "Name 3 ways humans affect the environment and the consequences of those changes" your answer is, "Humans affect the environment by SQUEAKING! The consequence is bleeding ears and insanity."

Kogan as Johsua. Maybe it's ties that turn a kid bad...not video games.The one case where bleeding ears and insanity don't occur when child actors appear is the evil child genre of horror. From the The Bad Seed in 1956 to both versions of Village of the Damned (Yes, I do mean to include the Christopher Reeve one. Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to share my appeciation for that film with the nets) to Joshua, the only good child actor is an evil child actor.

Joshua is the child prodigy son of Brad and Abby. The first scene is of a children's soccer game with one parent shouting at his son about how badly he's playing while Brad does some hushing motions to angry soccer dad. We don't really see Joshua until Brad runs into the middle of the game grabbing his son because of an emergency...Abby is giving birth...So we don't see Joshua until his parents stop seeing him.

Sibling rivalry is a regular part of growing up with brothers and sisters, but Joshua does what he does with everything he puts his mind to...He excels. The uber-smart Joshua begins manipulating his parents, his grandmother, and his uncle to get what he wants. I'll let you watch it to find out what he wants. Usually we focus on breasts, but for all the ladies...Here's Sam Rockwell showing off his junk in tighty whities.

Playing Brad is Sam Rockwell. I'm a big fan of Rockwell's, but he tends to play the same character in every movie...the hyper, obnoxious guy that you can't count on and often times you can't trust. Brad, however, is a departure from that role. Rockwell's Brad is an ineffectual appeaser who attempts to solve problems with hollow platitudes that everything is "fine". Joshua uses Brad's inability to see the truth to his advantage until Joshua is ready for him to know the truth.

Farmiga as Abby.Vera Farmiga brings us the mother, Abby. Vera's work here is fabulous, playing the emotional, psychologically unstable mother suffering from Post-Pardum Depression with energy and passion. Joshua easily manipulates the frazzled mother, pushing her sanity to its limits.

Trying to help the new parents is Hazel, Joshua's grandmother. As many grandparents do, Hazel, played by Celia Weston, feels she knows what is best. Hazel brings in some natural tension that Joshua is able to play with like toy blocks. Weston does a fine job in the role of the well intentioned, but judgemental grandmother.

Weston as Hazel.Rounding out the family is Abby's brother Ned played by Dallas Roberts. Ned seems to be the only member of the family that can connect with Joshua. Roberts played the role with ease and levity, so it was a pleasure when he was on screen.

In the title role is Jacob Kogan. It's always hard to say a child actor does a good job because, typically, child actors don't have the ability or emotional range to tap into. That's one reason I enjoy child actors in evil child horror films. Those roles are typically written as detached, cold, and unemotional, which I would assume would be easier to perform. While the same can be said for the role of Joshua, but Kogan does find opportunities to show some acting ability. After all, a diabolical child acting innocent is an acting job folding in on itself. Subtle eye movements and intense looks don't come off as just blank stares, but a devious mind calculating his next move.

Sam Rockwell and Kogan's real-life sibling as Lily Cairn.A lot of times, it's the acting is what sells a movie to me, and the acting here is all around good, and if the acting is bad, then there's a fun, interesting, and captivating plot. But the plot of Joshua is really basic. Where Joshua stands out is in the writing. You can have a fun plot that's poorly written. It happens in horror films all the time. But Joshua is a well written thriller. There's no gore and very few jumps, so maybe it should be called a thriller rather than a horror, but whatever you call it, it was put together well.

I watched this movie twice before sitting down to write this because I knew I liked the movie, but I wasn't exactly sure why. On second viewing, I saw...There are no pointless scenes. Every scene that you see means something and sometimes you may not realize what you are seeing. On the second viewing I watched the talent show scene closer. I noticed, as Ned did, that Joshua was intentionally hitting the wrong keys. The eerie chaos that his "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" performance, which should have been a classical piece, does more than creep us out or even symbolize a degradation of innocence. Ned looks closely as Joshua plays and says, "He's hitting every note." Joshua wasn't making mistakes...he was playing the wrong notes on purpose representing his intentional departure from his innocent youth and foreshadowing his intentional manipulations of his family. He removes all of his toys, again removing himself from his innocent childhood.

The parents, Abby and Brad, are also very realistic in their depiction. They are not criminally negligent, but generally unaware parents. They could be most parents. More extreme, maybe...but still, most parents.

What an incredible smell you've discovered!A reviewer I read before finally deciding to give this a look said, "There is little reason for the less than 130 IQ viewer to watch this flick because you will not like it at all." I laughed because I read that after this review: "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." I don't generally like Sundance films, but I like films that make me think, so I knew it was going to be a risky rent. Naturally, both are a little off the mark lending themselves toward the extreme...

A face only a homicidal maniac could love.It's not about intelligence, it's just about taste. If you like subtle, tense movies, then give this one a shot. But if you prefer your horrors like Jeepers Creepers, then you might want to give this one a pass.

Where Are They Now?

Jacob Kogan: I was pleased to find out that Kogan plays an adolescent Spock in the 11th Star Trek movie due out May 8, 2009.

Sam Rockwell: Rockwell doesn't appear in many horror films. However, he will be appearing in a 2009 sci-fi thriller Moon. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his contract with Lunar. He's been a faithful employee for 3 long years. His home has been Selene, a moon base where he has spent his days alone, mining Helium 3. The precious gas holds the key to reversing the Earth's energy crisis. But 2 weeks shy of his departure from Selene, Sam starts seeing things, hearing things and feeling strange. And when a routine extraction goes horribly wrong, he discovers that Lunar have their own plans for replacing him and the new recruit is eerily familiar.

Ned and Joshua playing piano.Vera Farmiga: In Orphan, Farmiga returns to the evil child horror genre, though not in the lead role. A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be. The project is in post-production, but I have no information on a release date.

Celia Weston: Weston appeared next in the August 2007 release The Invasion about a Washington psychiatrist who unearths the origin of an alien epidemic, she also discovers her son might be the only way it can be stopped. Her next release will be the comedy Demoted. What go around comes around for a pair of prank-playing tire salesmen who find themselves placed in secretarial jobs by their put-upon boss.

Dallas as Uncle Ned. I think I smell something too.Dallas Roberts: Roberts's next horror film will be Tell-Tale about A man whose newly transplanted heart leads him on a dangerous journey to find out who murdered its donor. Roberts plays the surgeon in this movie loosely based on Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart".

George Ratliff: Ratliff put horror behind him with his next project, End Zone, a comedy about a college football running back who struggles to balance his newfound fame, a crush on a co-ed, his relationship with the school's excitable publicist, and a teacher with nefarious plans for the star athlete. Ratliff wrote and will direct this adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel. Sam Rockwell will also appear in this film.

David Gilbert: Gilbert assists Ratliff again in End Zone.

Abby showing off her new red boots. I understand saving money, but that's a bit much.


kelloggs said...

While watching "Joshua" I tried to change the channel multiple times, but just ended up changing it back. That's what kind of movie it was for me. You're right about the really good acting, especially with Vera Farmigas portrayal of an unstable and depressed mom. So i guess it was probably the predictability of the film that kept making me lose interest, but the developed characters that kept me coming back. Like when the Grandmother announces that Joshua has been "born again," I really wanted to slap her, lol, but so did ppd mom, and that's just good writing, like you said.

Great Review, If it's on again I'll watch it w/o changing the channel this time, to look for more foreshadowing.
And that Sundance quote was so true! lmao.

Bodog said...

Yeah, if you didn't think it sucked the first just seemed a little slow and typical for an evil child film, I'd suggest giving it a second shot.

But I'm not a doctor, so I'm not prescribing anything...