At The Picture Show
Touch of evil
The Satan-child genre gets a new entry in 'Joshua'
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: George Ratliff
Screenplay: David Gilbert and George Ratliff
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael
McKean and Jacob Kogan
Rated R / 1 hour, 45 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)
Little kids are scary. They're sinister, evil little devil spawns, and they want to kill
you - and any other children you might be thinking about having.
OK, maybe not all of them. In fact, only a select few would fit this description.
Linda Blair, Harvey Stephens, Macaulay Culkin, Patty McCormack...or as they're
otherwise known, Regan from The Exorcist, Damien from The Omen, Henry from
The Good Son, Rhoda from The Bad Seed. Evil little children are all over the
place. Another one comes creeping in Joshua and - you're never going to believe
this - the child in question is named Joshua (played by newcomer Jacob Kogan).
He's the perfect little son to a likeable couple played
by Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga. He's been their only child for a while - and
for a reason. He was such a terror during his early years that his mother, Abby,
could hardly handle it. We get ominous hints of just how horrible baby Joshua
But he's grown up now - a little bit, at least. He's 9 years old now. He plays the
piano. He's remarkably well-spoken for his age. He's a normal, well-adjusted kid.
Not very likeable, maybe...in fact, in one of the film's more effective scenes, he
even asks his dad whether or not he likes him, insisting that "you don't have to."
But anyway, he seems to be easy enough to handle - the Terrible Twos are long
Until, that is, the new baby arrives. Joshua doesn't like the new baby. He makes
this quite clear when he...uh...keeps trying to kill her.
OK, OK, it's not quite that obvious. There are some laugh-worthy moments that
are definitely not meant to be funny. But to be fair to writer/director George
Ratliff, he tries to build the tension of his story from a less obvious angle. Joshua
deliberately sabotages his own piano recital. He distances himself from the family.
Against his mother's will, he suddenly becomes close to her ultra-right-wing
Christian cliche grandmother (Celia Weston). To put it simply, he expresses his
evil in a much more passive-aggressive style. After all, he doesn't want to give
But the progression of the story leaves a lot to be
desired. Logical holes jump out at us. The dramatic setpieces offer nothing in the
way of originality or suspense. And then there's the kid...
When Joshua screened at Sundance earlier this year, the cast and crew raved about
Jacob Kogan, and how much of a "natural" he was. That's a natural thing to say,
of course - everyone compliments everyone at festival premieres and press
junkets. But unfortunately, Kogan simply isn't very impressive. The Creepy Child
has been done to death in the movies, and this performance just doesn't hold much
Playing alongside Kogan are Rockwell and Farmiga, two excellent leads who form
a feasible couple before the script reveals its unintelligence. Farmiga is especially
convincing as an anguished mother suffering from postpartum depression. Her
condition is supposed to play into some of the uncertainty regarding Joshua's true
nature. Is he really evil, or is it just her hormones working up? But Ratliff never
convincingly pulls off that angle. The real shame is that Farmiga gives a great
performance - it just belongs in a better movie.
Joshua isn't all that impressive to begin with, but
really loses track when it pumps up the drama. There's a "hide and seek" scene
that makes absolutely no logical sense. And the film's climactic scenes that will
make you angry for their sheer mindless contrivance.
Psychological horror is a difficult thing to pull off. Ratliff at least had some firm
ground to stand on when making Joshua, since his plot format is such a familiar
one. But he still doesn't quite manage to pull it off. By the end of the movie, the
kid isn't scary. He isn't an ominous presence that makes our neck hairs stand up.
He's just annoying. He needs to be given a time-out - and a good spanking. That'll
Read more by Chris Bellamy