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Joshua is a 2007 American psychological horror/thriller film about an affluent young Manhattan family and how they are torn apart by the increasingly sadistic behavior of their disturbed son, Joshua. The film was directed by George Ratliff and stars Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga and Jacob Kogan. It was released on July 6, 2007 in the United States. The movie centers around the lives of Brad and Abby Cairn (Rockwell and Farmiga), two affluent Manhattanites with two children. Their firstborn, the nine-year-old boy Joshua (Kogan) is a child prodigy to such a degree that he thinks and acts decades ahead of his age. He is nearly always clad in conservative business attire and demonstrating limitless brilliance as a pianist with a marked predilection for "dissonant" classical pieces. Joshua gravitates toward his gay esthete uncle Ned (Dallas Roberts) as a close friend, but distances himself from his immediate kin, particularly when Abby brings a newborn baby sister home from the hospital. As the days pass, bizarre events transpire as the mood at the house regresses from healthy and happy to strange and disorienting.
Director George Ratliff's shift into narrative cinema isn't completely unlike his hair-raising Trinity Church documentary Hell House. Though intriguingly unexplored, the idea of religious fundamentalism gets breached in a scene when the young Joshua (Jacob Kagon) takes a trip to church with his grandmother (Celia Weston). He later announces that he is prepared to accept Christ; his mother (Vera Farmiga) responds by reminding her mother-in-law and Joshua that she is a 'big, fat Jew'. The father (Sam Rockwell) takes his son's eccentricities and disturbing statements ('you don't have to love me') with a shambling good nature, only truly breaking down when the family dog dies. In a wicked twist, Ratliff only hints at the father's possible infidelity and revels in the lame AM radio rock he sings as he enters his apartment palace.
The first half of Joshua is all innuendo and intimation: there's never a minute where we actually witness the disturbing child doing anything specifically evil. Joshua, who has a knack for quietly coming up on people, attempts to mummify his stuffed panda and turns a talent-show rendition of 'Twinkle Twinkle' into an abstract performance piece that wouldn't be out-of-place on a Scott Walker LP. Meanwhile, momma bear begins to go batty: Her newborn daughter won't stop crying, she's hearing people come through the ceiling, and her mental exhaustion has made it difficult for her to lactate. Her brother (Dallas Roberts) tries to help out by distracting the mother-in-law and being a surrogate father to Joshua, but it's to no avail. In a scene of pure creep, a mother-son game of hide-and-go-seek goes awry when the mother can't find either the son or her newborn.
Ratliff loses his focus in the second half of the film. Rather than holding us at arms-length as to whether it's just the overwhelming worries of the bourgeois parents or Joshua's actual evil causing all the havoc, the film becomes a sloppy cat-and-mouse ploy. Like other classic demon-child films (The Omen, Demon Seed), the film hinges on the stoic believability of the child in question, and Kogan does a solid job of keeping us in suspense of whether Joshua is just a weird kid or a real monster. The inevitable problem comes when Ratliff has to answer that question rather than just leaving us to wonder what's going on. That ultimately makes the film easily predictable and defuses the moments of suspense that are still to be had in the second half. Still, it's nice to see a film that returns to the psychological queasiness of films like Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, if only for an hour.
The DVD includes commentary from Ratliff, deleted scenes, Kogan's screen test, and other minor extras.
The devil wears Levi's.