Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Aaron Gaffey, Ward Roberts, Jeremiah Johnson, Christy Jackson
Directed by Travis Betz
Released by Hart Sharp Video
The face of indie horror is changing, and thank God it's finally for the better. Filmmakers like Joshua director Travis Betz are helping to shape this change, demonstrating not only a skilled directorial eye but a solid grasp on dialogue, the importance of good casting, and memorable characters.
What will likely strike you first and foremost about Joshua is the camera work. To call it skillful would be a disservice; it’s inventive, kinetic, seemingly never repeating the same shot twice and always willing to try odd angles. It’s encouraging to see this kind of talent behind the camera in a low budget film because it goes a long way to show that the new generation of filmmakers are just as talented, if not more so in some cases, as the last. And here I had thought everyone was lazy because most cameras only weigh a few pounds and it’s easier to just point and shoot.
So that’s the most obvious positive aspect of Joshua, but you’re probably more curious as to what the film is actually about, right? What I’m willing to tell you is this; Joshua is about Kelby Unger (Roberts), a young man who has just proposed to his beautiful girlfriend (Jackson). Shortly after popping the question, he receives a call that his estranged father, who apparently has spent the last decade or so in prison, has died of heart failure. For some reason they decide to have a funeral service for him, even though it’s implied that everyone hated him and he was in jail for the murder of his youngest daughter, and Kelby feels that he has to return to the town he grew up in.
Of course he brings his now-fiancé along with him, who ends up serving as the only sane person in the entire town. As soon as some of Kelby’s old acquaintances learn he’s back in town they go out of their way to see him, especially Wally (Johnson), who’s now a cop, and James (Gaffey), a very creepy fellow who we’re introduced to at the film’s opening after he brings a drunk girl home and ruthlessly does away with her, with the implication that she's going to be fed to... something. It’s clear that Kelby’s past isn’t exactly wholesome and the truth that slowly (some say too slowly) reveals itself is truly disturbing. You thought kids playing frog baseball was bad? This is far, far more horrifying.
Making matters worse, Kelby’s family has all sorts of issues. His sister, Trish, shows up right when Kelby and his girl are about to have carnal relations, and looks like she’d be willing to join in at any time. Their uncle, who neither of them knew existed until the death of their father, is a disgusting human being who cares nothing for his brother or his brother’s offspring, until later on when he cares a bit too much... but I’ll just leave it at that. Then there’s Kelby’s mother, a woman who could seemingly give two shits about the fact that here son is home and her ex-husband is dead. A nuclear family the Ungers are not.
I really don’t want to tell you anymore than that, sorry. I went into Joshua knowing absolutely nothing, save that some were calling it one of the best indie films they’d seen in years, and I think because of that I enjoyed it that much more.
Joshua is full of very competent acting. Some people I’ve discussed it with seem to thing the Wally character is a bit annoying, but I think he was supposed to be a out there. Poor guy went through a lot of shit and barely got out with any sanity intact, what can you expect? One of the biggest issues with most indie films is that they’re so focused on just getting the film done, the filmmakers spend little to no time making sure the performances are actually worthwhile, but such is not the case here. Don’t get me wrong, there are some definite flat roles portrayed here, but it seems that most of them were wisely left on the cutting room floor as the character’s screen time is minimized. The girlfriend and mother are great examples of this; an entire scene of dialogue between them was cut out, and I suspect it wasn’t just because the running time was getting up there.
Makeup effects are solid as well, enhanced greatly by the skillful camera work mentioned earlier. It’s one thing to setup cool effects shots with realistic gore, but if it’s not shot right it can still come off as amateur. Thankfully those two elements work together far better than I expected. The look of the title character is creepy as hell, I’d like to add, especially when you consider his age in the film. Freaky.
For such a great little film, I was really hoping for more from the DVD. Sadly the only features to speak of are a photo gallery (and if you’ve read any of my previous DVD reviews you know just how "special" I think those are), a set of eight deleted scenes and an alternate ending. The deleted scenes are preceded by a brief text-only explanation from the director as to why they were cut, what went wrong during their filming, and/or something amusing about the shoot. It’s the only trace of the director’s personality you get, which is unfortunate because after watching the movie I certainly wanted to know more about him. Ah, well.
I’m not sure why there weren’t more features compiled for the DVD, but I’m just happy that Joshua will be out there for you guys to give it a chance. It’s certainly not a perfect movie, there are issues with character motivation galore and sometimes things just take too damn long to get where they’re supposed to be going, but it’s different, disturbing, and done with real skill. Traits that are far too rare in our genre these days.
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