I just watched the movie ‘Joshua’, and it was something wonderfully unique. It’s tempting to lump it in with the ‘Bad Seed’ and ‘Omen’ crowd, but it really stands alone in its ability to richly combine suspense, growing horror movie dread, and detailed observations of everyday relationships.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Sam Rockwell playing Joshua’s father being especially notable (and surprisingly sexy even when he’s falling apart.)
Despite its creepy atmosphere and leanings towards horror movie cliché at times, it manages to perceptively explore the theme of the love between parent and child that society deems obligatory. Plenty of dramas have examined the jock/conventional father alienated from his egghead (or gay or timid or unusual) son, but Joshua’s way of looking at the issue is less obvious and surprisingly profound, when it’s not busy being eerie. Just when the movie seems to be a stereotypical story of an older child jealous of a new baby it begins to show layers that are much more than that.
Joshua doesn’t stop at examining the alienation a parent can feel for their child, but also the alienation a child can feel for his parents. Countless dramas have explored this theme: the artistic/perceptive/progressive child feels alienated from his or her boorish/uncultured/simple parents, but Joshua brings a fresh and incisive look to it. His parents aren’t boors, they’re smart, successful, relatively sophisticated people. Other than the mother’s obvious mental fragility, the flaws of these parents are there, but not heavy-handedly obvious. They seem to love Joshua the way they should, but there are lovely details that show an emotional distance between them.
The added layer of Joshua’s father’s relationship to his parents is a wonderful addition to the mix: they are born-again Christians, and the tension that causes in their relationship with their Jewish daughter-in-law, as well as their now thoroughly non-religious son is also rich with subtle detail.
I’m not sure how I feel about the movie resolving as it does. The unexpected ending and the ultimate reason behind the various horrible events is certainly surprising. It’s the most credible Sixth Sense-like “twist” I’ve seen in some time: both completely surprising and absolutely understandable as you quickly review the movie’s events in your mind.
Despite a certain delight in the resolution, part of me wishes the movie could have remained more ambiguous. It’ll be too easy for viewers to simplify the movie down to a single “evil” person, when almost every character in the movie should be seen to play their part in the resolution of things. The writers and filmmakers certainly see the richer picture, but the ending makes it too easy to let the “twist” overwhelm all the sharp observations and details that the script and marvelously talented cast have shown us.