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Joshua (2007)

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Joshua review (click to see it bigger)Starring Sam Rockwell, Jacob Kogan, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts

Directed by George Ratliff


People have children to create their own family unit. This little pink baby comes into your life, and looking into his eyes, there’s no way you can conceive he could ever do anything wrong. It’s instant love. In some cases though, something is already wrong. The body is a mass of complex chemicals, and if that balance is thrown off in any way, it can alter things as minimal as personality and as chaotic as the severity of mood swings. To further gel a child’s development, you have the effects of environment, upbringing, teaching and stimuli like television and such. All of this gets rolled into your little person, and if you aren’t careful, he can become something you would have never imagined. Your child could be the blessing you always dreamed of or your own personal hell.

Enter Joshua, a little man living in the city with his fairly young parents and their newborn baby girl. Joshua is an extremely gifted child who is not only ridiculously smart but has an aptitude for music as well, but something isn’t quite right. His reactions to things are slightly off. His questions about the levels of love a parent should have for a child seem disconcerting. There is something going on in that little head, and by all indications it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. When you don’t suspect children are capable of true evil, imagine the damage they can cause before someone catches them. Joshua has a plan, and not all of his family members are included in it.

Sam Rockwell plays Brad Cairn, a successful businessman who seems to be struggling with what’s expected of him as an up-and-comer in New York socialite circles and his yearnings to escape it all with a little good music and the love of his family. A certain simplicity. Rockwell is 100% believable in every moment of this film and seems fully immersed in the story, which has some very quirky moments. He’s playing a very real character that isn’t beyond a common person’s understanding, unlike the super affluent family from The Omen, so he is very accessible and his reactions all make sense. Vera Farmiga’s Abby seems written as a bit of a mess. Without revealing too much, I’ll just say Abby goes a little crazy as the film builds, adding chaotic moments to an already uncertain tone. Again, Abby is played with an extraordinary level of commitment that comes of as truly genuine, but I felt no connection between husband and wife. It’s as if someone plucked two characters from different movies and dropped them into this film together and then tried to convince you that it all fits perfectly.

Celia Weston plays Brad’s holy roller mother, Hazel, whose evangelical nature, impressively, does not go over the top. Hazel provides further opportunities for the young Joshua to manipulate the family by casting doubt on people’s motivations and escalating small conflicts into larger ones. To that end, Hazel becomes a perfect tool for Joshua’s ultimate plan. Speaking of Joshua, Jacob Kogan pulls off an incredible level of apathy in this film. That doesn’t seem like a large feat, but when you are surrounded by A level actors giving it their all and you are told you must stay cold and calculating, it must be a challenge, even for a fully grown actor. Kogan’s stone face isn’t one without any visible emotion. It’s the wheels turning behind the eyes. It’s a chess player thinking 10 moves ahead. Finally, we have Dallas Roberts as Joshua’s Uncle Ned, who remains a character largely untouched, at least personally, by the insane events unfolding, giving us a bit of an outsider’s perspective. Ned, while enjoyable to watch as he provides lighter moments to a heavy piece, is a character that I couldn’t wrap my brain around. At times Ned sits with his sister, who is not acknowledging that this is her brother in front of her. A kiss on the lips … a breast-feeding pump in action in full view … where exactly did this crew grow up??!! There are also times where the writing suggests Ned’s character may be gay and others where he appears to be checking out women. To say the least he’s all over the place, making it hard to soak up the character in any way.

Joshua is a disjointed piece, weighted down with indie shooting techniques and quick cutaways. At times you are meant to feel that you are an unnamed character in the room, given your own perspective, and others, the viewpoint becomes a traditional focused camera cycling between angles and characters with Hollywood slickness. Director George Ratliff explained this is very deliberate, meant to build the intensity of the film and seriousness of the actions being viewed from your comfy theater chair. This would be all well and good if there weren’t moments of hilarity peppered all through the last half of the movie. Father and son face off at the dinner table. Father eyeballs son, squinting to see if he can figure out his little boy. Will he sit there quietly eating or will he jump up from the table, knife in hand, and attempt to cut my head off? No … he’s too smart for that. It would probably be poison. Wait. Did he already poison my food? BAA!! This is all said through facial expressions and dialogue disguised as small talk. It becomes more about what is not said rather than what is, and you can’t help but laugh out loud.

Odd pieces strewn together. Mixed emotions laid out on a table and forced to fit. These are phrases I’d use to quantify Joshua. You are given a powerful moment, but instead of exploring that revelation, the film cuts and jumps into a new moment. This jerking action would forcibly yank me out of a connection and figuratively hit reset. In the end Joshua is a drama, but it’s also a horror movie on a very realistic level. That is to say Joshua is as much a horror film as any other news story about family atrocity in America. It’s all believable and remarkably smart, but it’s not scary in the least. This is not a horrible film, but one that doesn’t know what it wants to be. If this is a tale of an evil child systematically tearing his own family apart, then you probably shouldn’t be making me laugh. If this is a thought-provoking drama about how parents can color the development of a child and inadvertently make him a future serial killer, then you should go that way full force and develop each individual fully so we might feel their pain. Primarily, if this were to be a straight-up horror film, we need to be able to watch young Joshua as he sets things in motion so we can be allowed to yell at the screen “DON’T GO IN THERE!!” In a sense we are only allowed to enter the room after the chaos is caused and watch the aftermath. People mourning a loss are generally never scary.

Joshua is going to be seen as a film that’s hard to pin down. On one hand the actors pull off some amazing work; yet, I couldn’t help being bored a lot of the time. Joshua is its own odd little person who seems to want to fit in but lacks the social graces, complete with an ending that had me scratching my head, laughing and saying, “What the fuck was that??!!” Joshua takes on the beat of an indie film, so be prepared for that sort of storytelling if you choose to take it on. If you wanted the ultimate evil little kid film that will send chills through your body, this isn’t your ride.

2 out of 5

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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.33 (6 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.9 (10 votes)
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The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

Directed by Alan Lougher


The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Ultimately chilling in nature!

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User Rating 3.31 (16 votes)
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