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Joshua (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/8/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/4/2008

I tend to use a lot of adjectives when I review movies, but I rarely use the terms "modern" or "classic" (and in 15 years of writing, I don't think that I've ever used the term "postmodern"). I've never really given much thought to it, but I assume that it's fairly obvious if a movie is using a "modern" or "classic" style, so I don't feel the need to harp on that. Joshua is an exception. This is a film which nearly defies description, as it veers from thriller to drama. But if I was going to label the movie, I would call it a modern horror film, as it takes issues from today's culture and makes them starkly frightening.

Joshua tells the story of the Cairn family who live in Manhattan. We meet Brad (Sam Rockwell), a successful hedge fund manager, his wife, Abby (Vera Farmiga), and their 9-year old son, Joshua (Jacob Kogan). They appear to be a very normal, happy family, and Joshua is a very intelligent, polite, and well-behaved child who is an excellent pianist. As the film opens, April gives birth to Lily, and she and Brad are ecstatic to have a new baby. Joshua doesn't really react to this, aside from the fact that he vomits at Lily's homecoming party. At first, Lily seems to be a happy baby, but soon she begins crying ceaselessly. This begins to wear on April and we learn that she has a history of mental health issues which apparently escalated when Joshua was born. Abby's slide into a breakdown begins to wear on Brad and his work starts to suffer. At first, Brad is relieved that Joshua appears to taking everything so well, but soon, Brad begins to suspect that something sinister lies beneath Joshua's blank demeanor.

When I first read about Joshua, I expected something along the lines of the The Bad Seed or The Good Son. It would be easy to summarize the film as a young boy begins to misbehave when his parents brings home his baby sister. But, that assessment would be lazy and inaccurate. Joshua is much more than that.

The easiest way to describe the film is that it's The Omen without the supernatural elements. If you ask most people what The Omen is about, they would probably say that it's about Damien. But, if you go back and watch the film, you'll see that Damien isn't in the film very much and that it's really about how the adults around him react to what is happening. Something very similar happens in Joshua. As noted above, Joshua vomits at the party, but we don't see him do anything truly unusual again for quite some time. In the meantime, the movie explores Abby's breakdown and Brad's slow realization that his son may not be who he thinks he is. The movie actually leads us down a certain path where we begin to forget about Joshua, but then certain events bring him back to the forefront.

While Joshua is (hopefully) a fictional film, it's the realistic touches which make it work. The movie was co-written and directed by George Ratliff, who previously made the incredibly disturbing documentary Hell House. He brings a certain real-world sensibility to Joshua that enhances the film. This is really a "horror" movie, as none of those conventions are at work here, but it is still very scary. The Cairn family are clearly upper-class and it would be safe to say that Joshua has become accustomed to a certain lifestyle. There are also implications that Brad and Abby haven't paid much attention to Joshua, even before Lily was born. (This film would make a good companion piece with The Nanny Diaries.) The movie tackles the idea of post-partum depression with an unblinking eye, and the fact that Abby has an extensive mental health history makes us very wary of her character. In a nice change of pace, Brad is the most likable character in the film. Typically the workaholic Wall Street type father is seen as distant, but Brad is clearly a good guy and when things begin to fall apart, he does what he can to keep his family together. But, it's the finale of Joshua which is the most disturbing, as it illustrates how our PC culture can go too far at times, taking too many rights away from parents.

I used terms like "horror" and "scary" several times here, but I don't want to give the wrong impression. Joshua is not your run of the mill scary movie. It is a psychological thriller in the tradition of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby or The Tenant. We watch a group of seemingly normal people slowly collapse into chaos. Some may find the film too slow, but I only thought that Ratliff was cranking up the tension. No matter the case, all should agree that young Jacob Kogan is very creepy as the quite and stern Joshua. I don't know, maybe only parents would find this movie disturbing, but Joshua is the kind of quiet and methodical thriller that we don't see enough of any more.

Joshua needs a spanking on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain, nor any defects from the source material. The colors are good, although one will notice that the color is drained out of the movie as it progresses. There are some dark scenes here, but the action is always visible. A preview disc was screened for this review and there was some artifacting present, but I can't say if that will be on the version found in stores. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Joshua is a very quiet movie, so we don't get a lot of surround sound or subwoofer effects, save for some New York street scenes. However, certain sounds, such as Joshua's piano or the baby crying have the desired effect.

The Joshua DVD contains a smattering of extras. We have an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director George Ratliff and writer David Gilbert. At one point, they claim that what we are watching is supposed to be funny. I'm not sure if they meant the whole movie, or just that scene! Otherwise, this is a pretty straightforward commentary, as the two discuss the story, the locations and the actors. They pay particular attention to Kogan and the development of the Joshua character. "Cast and Crew Interviews" (12 minutes) contains comments from actors Jacob Kogan, Sam Rockwell, & Vera Farmiga, director George Ratliff, producer Johnathan Dorfman, and production designer Roshelle Berliner on a variety of topics. There are some interesting moments here, but overall each segment is too brief. We get more interviews in "Internet Advertising Campaign" (5 minutes), which contains comments from Ratliff, Rockwell, and Kogan. The DVD has "Jacob Kogan's Audition" (3 minutes). We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Fly" by Dave Matthews. There are 5 DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. All of these are brief, but three from the second half of the film have more interesting views of Joshua and his parents. Finally, we have the THEATRICAL TRAILER for Joshua which is letterboxed at 1.85:1, but not 16 x 9.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long