Movie Review for Joshua (2007)

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Review #483 of 365
Movie Review of Joshua (2007) [R] 105 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $9.00
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver West Village Stadium 12, Golden, CO
When 1st Seen: 19 July 2007
Time: 5:35 pm
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer
DVD Release Date: 8-Jan-08 (click date to purchase or pre-order)

Directed by: George Ratliff (Hell House)
Screenplay by: David Gilbert (debut) • George Ratliff (debut)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Sam Rockwell (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ) • Vera Farmiga (Breaking and Entering) • Celia Weston (Return to Rajapur) • Dallas Roberts (Flicka) • Michael McKean (For Your Consideration) • Jacob Kogan ("Wonder Showzen")

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
To read the spoiler points, click here.
Again with little studio fanfare, Fox Searchlight brings out Joshua in the middle of one of the most fiercely competitive months of the summer suggesting either they really don't care about this film -or- they really do not care at all about this film. On the one hand, given the plot, which to anyone who's seen The Good Son or The Bad Seed or any other of a host of dark thrillers featuring malevolent children including the Grand Daddy of them all, The Omen which, itself has even been remade, it's hard to explain why anyone would invest time, talent, and treasure in the making of Joshua in the first place. On the other, the performances of the three leads do make the film interesting a bit above the repetitious and somewhat déjà vu aspects of the plot.

"…the performances of the three leads do make the film interesting a bit above the repetitious and somewhat déjà vu aspects of the plot. "
The plot, which no one seems to be hiding from, begins with the birth of Lily into the Cairn family which previously consisted of Brad (Sam Rockwell), Abby (Vera Farmiga), and nine-year old Joshua (Jacob Kogan). Jacob, for the record, was a little odd before Lily was born, however, her birth catalyzes some deep seeded feelings, morbid curiosities, and eventually homicidal tendencies in his brilliant yet twisted little mind. Admittedly inexperienced narrative film director, George Ratliff, who co-wrote the screenplay with writing partner David Gilbert who apparently was the man behind the idea for the film as well, chronicles the film using flash images of the number of days into Lily's life the film has progressed. Ultimately, this technique will serve as an all too blatant reminder of the chief problem with the film's plodding plot. As Lily's life progresses, her tendency to cry all the time unleashes the memories of Abby's first born, and the terrible time she apparently had in dealing with him as a baby, though she seems to have repressed those memories. Brad and Abby, for the most part, are a typical middle class Manhattan family living in a suitable apartment with nice things and plenty of space. Brad's job is good enough to keep them living well, and his boss, Chester Jenkins (Michael McKean) typically is pretty understanding of the needs of a new mother and, subsequently, the working father. Early on, the Cairns are visited by Brad's parents, though only his mother, Hazel (Celia Weston) stands out from the scenes especially when she probes and prods about the religious upbringing of her grandchildren whom, in her eyes, seem to be living lives devoid of her savior Jesus Christ. Given that Abby is Jewish, and her agreement with Brad to allow their children to adopt religious beliefs of their own on their own time table, thus is logical to all but Hazel who feels a strong, Evangelical upbringing is essential if not imperative. This conflict causes a sizeable blow-up later in the film. The gathering is made complete by a visit from Uncle Ned (Dallas Roberts) who is Abbys theatrically inclined brother. The family seems quite normal by today's standards. Unfortunately, as Lily grows, day by day, she cries more and more, and this pushes Abby down a difficult psychological road with some elements of post partum depression. Joshua meanwhile, without overt indications, shows all signs of becoming a murderous little child prodigy with virtuosity in the area of music composition and piano. Oh there's a fascination with Egyptian mummification, the mysterious death of all of the animals in the cages in his classroom at school, his creepy appearances in odd places at night at home startling his parents, the inexplicable death of the family dog, beloved Buster, and eventually, incidents that lead to the institutionalization of Abby. Oh, it's all so sinister. Or, at least it would be, if the writers could have or would have committed to the plan they've set up. Spoiler points (click here) will address this more fully, but not here for those who want to see the film without more prejudice. This failure to really commit to that which seems inevitable, turns the film into a bit more of a psychologically tormenting film for the audience than the characters in some ways. Meanwhile, Brad seems to be catching on to the malevolence of his son, but each of his attempts to get to the bottom of the problems lead him further down the rabbit hole into Joshua's inexplicably, ill-conceived plan to rid himself of everyone in his life—if that really is his plan. Screen shots remind us that we are now XYZ days into Lily's life again, and this count up (opposite of countdown?) foreshadows something. As the credits roll, they will prove to have been singularly useless, as will have, to a large degree, the film in general. This is not to say, of course, that the film is terrible. It is, quite frankly, still not that much different than The Good Son, etc. when it comes to the plot, however. The difference is that the characters are, perhaps, more artistically well drawn, and with all due respect, even more intensely acted. Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga are close to the top of their game in acting these characters. As Joshua's piano music plays a prominent and aurally indelible role in the film, the notes too ascribe to the perfection of these portrayals. Beginning with Vera Farmiga, we watch as her character implodes. Without the necessary mental defense mechanisms, she creeps closer to the edge of insanity day by day. Next, Sam Rockwell, endows Brad with an intelligent strength and savvy. He's made Brad not just a good father but a great one saying all the right 2007 versions of Ward Cleaver's sage advice to sons Wally and the Beaver. Yet, unlike Ward, Brad has to deal with the devilish Joshua who has somehow become adept at mind games normally the playground of master serial killers. And then there's "Wondershozen" find, Jocob Kogan. This young actor has been given an actor's dream role, sadly the dream of a lifetime that may have come too soon as his many predecessors in such roles have found the hard way. His 'plastic' hair style, soulless eyes, and habit of failing to engage in conversation until the last possible moment and then only with some pre-conceived, nearly Eddie Haskell-fakery like "I love you Mommy and Daddy." Right kid, then why are you constantly plotting their demise? Still, a deceptive problem arises from the lack of descriptive motivations for each character, however, as we are woefully left without explanation for what drives them, especially Joshua. Is it something wrong with his mind? Clearly, this is nothing supernatural ala Damien, so what then? Bad genes? Is there someone outside the peripheral abusing him? Though a sequel is all but inconceivable, the film ends as if setting up one, which is never a good sign. It's an artistic device to be sure, leaving it up to the audience to decide what happens. In this case, is it more of an artistic device or is it that the writers just couldn't make the commitment as previously suggested, to that which they set in motion? Unfortunately, of course, because of this inconclusive ending, there's no way to know.

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Other Projects Featuring Joshua (2007)
Cast Members
Sam RockwellVera FarmigaCelia Weston
Dallas RobertsMichael McKeanJacob Kogan
George Ratliff
David GilbertGeorge Ratliff
Review-lite Joshua (2007) [max of 150 words]
The Good Son, The Bad Seed, The Omen, the list of films featuring children gone terribly wrong is long. What motivated co-writers David Gilbert and George Ratliff, who also directed, to believe the genre needed one more look, this time through the chronology of new baby sister, Lily, as her days tick by, brother Joshua (Jacob Kogan) grows mysteriously evil, isn't clear. Though nothing's set in stone as to whether he is or isn't responsible for the string of awful incidents including the death of all the caged rodents in his school classroom or eventually his grandmother, every sign is that the odd child piano prodigy with a fascination for Egyptian mythology is up to no good. Sam Rockwell plays his doting father who tries to hold the family together despite the continued regression into mental psychoses experienced by his wife, Abby (Vera Farmiga). Great acting and characters, unfortunately, were unable to elevate the film toward 'must see' status, as the motivations of the lead character was insufficiently explained.

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