Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Jacob Kogan, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael McKean / Fiction / English
We need to talk about Joshua...
From Village of the Damned to We Need to Talk About Kevin, via the iconic likes of The Exorcist and The Omen, popular culture has fostered a fascination with children who decline to be soft and innocent. If children have long been deployed as convenient conduits for adult fears, the recent rash of high school shootings in the States has lent a new directness to stories of youthful sociopathy. Not that Joshua makes many pretensions towards solemn social commentary. It’s too intimate and intense to make generalisations about its subject area; rather, this is a classy melodrama about family divisions that just happens to carry its story to a jaw-dropping extreme. Because Joshua isn’t a social demographic. Joshua is a one-off…
He’s also nine years old, perfectly groomed, a piano prodigy – and something of an embarrassment to his cheerfully conventional father, Brad (Sam Rockwell), who wanted a son he could play sports with, not a child genius in a suit and tie. Abby (Vera Farmiga) worries less – but then, Abby’s preoccupied with the brand-new baby, a girl.
Ah, yes: the new baby. Joshua (Jacob Kogan) clearly isn’t thrilled by the prospect; but for a good while, George Ratcliff’s skilfully constructed thriller keeps us guessing as to quite how the inevitable sibling rivalry is going to manifest itself. Like The Shining, Joshua initially allows us to interpret the initial household tensions as a slow-building metaphor for the restrictions of domesticity and commitment – before letting loose with the fire and brimstone. Horror isn’t horror, after all, unless it lulls you into believing that nothing horrific is going to happen…
And Joshua, like its eponymous anti-hero, has appearances on its side. Anchored by sincere, emotional performances by two accomplished stars, Rockwell and Farmiga, as well as sleek production design and gorgeous photography that deservedly won the Cinematography prize at Sundance 2007, Joshua prioritises dramatic credibility; the urge to break the building tension with a wink at the camera is resisted until near the end. (At Sundance, there was a palpable release of tension in the screening room once it was collectively decided that laughter was an appropriate response to the film’s extremes.) Slyly observant about family politics, and told with a sadistic relish for emotional reversals and other surprises, this is a killer addition to the bad-kid canon.
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