Child’s play

Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre September 24, 2007

Joshua
Directed by George Ratliff
Exclusive at Ayala Cinemas

Remember the original The Omen? Not the remake last year. That movie (which wasn’t really scary back in 1976 but then so was the remake) was first to show how a creepy mop-top kid can make a movie creepy. Or was it the 1956 classic The Bad Seed? That had a girl in pigtails. Anyway, Joshua has strong references to horror movies of old (hence, the mop-top).

Joshua isn’t a horror movie though. It’s possibly psychological, but damn if it’s thriller; although it does offer a thing or two for post-movie discussions. It’s a little suspenseful. That’s it.

Joshua (Jacob Kogan) couldn’t care less the day his new baby sister Lily arrives at their upscale Upper Manhattan condo. Each day that passes something bizarre happens (in case you miss the days, there’s a day counter onscreen). One day baby Lily starts crying and doesn’t stop. On another the dog mysteriously dies. On another Joshua disembowels his stuffed toys.

But Joshua lights up whenever Uncle Ned (Dallas Roberts) arrives and they do a showtune together on the piano, which Joshua plays very well.

Mom Abby (Vera Farmiga) suffers from double post-partum depression, if there is one, since she hasn’t overcome her first bout after Joshua’s birth. Daddy Brad (Sam Rockwell) is being stressed out, working and taking care of the family while mommy is going loony. (Spoilers onwards) One night Brad watches the family videotapes and discovers the reason why the baby keeps crying. Joshua is one bad kid.

It’s interesting to watch how Rockwell believably tries to control the situation, as a father suspecting his own young son of doing horrendous acts. But Brad’s fate at the end is no more twisted than the final scene, where Joshua, in his squeaky young boy’s voice, sings to his Uncle why things happened as they did.

The movie is interesting and nonsensical at the same time: it plays like a former film-student’s clever homage to old-style psycho suspense thrillers, minus the terror. The movie’s main conceit is that Joshua’s killer instincts are taken for granted upon Lily’s arrival. Nowhere is it even implied that he had that tendency prior. Damon, the bad seed in The Omen at least had a supernatural source.

Clues point everywhere as to how the movie plays out, but it repeats its theme – that of Joshua’s psychopathic reactions upon the arrival of Lily – until the climactic father-and-son confrontation at the park. At which point the movie lands on that incredibly creepy ending with the Uncle.

Rockwell has a firm grasp of his character, offsetting the rest of the cast’s overzealous portrayals. Farmiga, portraying a mother teetering on a nervous breakdown, has an Abby that borders on the funny. And Kogan’s Joshua has one look plastered on his face. But that’s likely directorial, not the actor’s.

The most interesting part of Joshua is not the ingenious plot or the killer ending (although the movie’s ending outweighs the rest of the proceedings, called a McGuffin or a plot that pushes the story forward but has no relevance otherwise).

(More spoilers!) It’s more interesting to understand how the filmmakers developed this disturbed story about a psychopathic kid with some sort of a homo-incestuous Elektra-uncle complex. Is Joshua an unprocessed behavioral condition of the writer? What drove them to make this madness? Somewhere in this movie is the portrait of the artist as the character.

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