**1/2 (out of 5)
July 20, 2007
Sam Rockwell as BRAD CAIRN
Vera Farmiga as ABBY CAIRN
Celia Weston as HAZEL CAIRN
Dallas Roberts as NED DAVIDOFF
Michael McKean as CHESTER JENKINS
Jacob Kogan as JOSHUA CAIRN
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Directed by: George Ratliff
BY KEVIN CARR
‘Tis the season for the Sundance releases. Earlier this summer, we saw the release of probably the biggest splash out of Robert Redford’s festival, “Waitress.” Now, Fox Searchlight is releasing another Sundance acquisition, “Joshua.”
This film follows a family through a breakdown in modern-day New York. Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby Cairn (Vera Farmiga) have just had a new baby daughter. They bring the infant home and adjust to life with a second child. At home is their seemingly perfect, yet clearly creepy, son Joshua (Jacob Kogan).
The Cairns don’t adjust well to the change in lifestyle, and it seems that Joshua is intrigued with their angst. He exacerbates the situation by causing more problems. Things start out slowly, with him invading his sisters room in the middle of the night, but they escalate to violence and rage. However, Joshua’s a smart kid. He knows how to keep things a secret, and he knows how to make himself look innocent. Slowly, the family goes mad from the inside-out.
The problem I had with “Joshua” is the same problem Stephen King had with Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining.” King complained that it was impossible to take Jack Nicholson as a regular guy who was driven insane because the dude was nuts from frame one.
Similarly, “Joshua” is presented as a muted version of “The Omen.” There’s no core of evil or antichrist message. Rather, it’s a kid that’s a bit off-kilter who drives his family nuts. However, if you strip away all the meddling that Joshua does, it’s clear to see the family is dysfunctionally psychopathic from the start.
Abby has severe post-partum depression and saddles herself with white New York guilt. Brad is an absentee father who never takes the time to actually understand his family. The grandmother is an overbearing prayer warrior who just won’t accept the fact that her son married a Jew. And the brother-in-law has a laissez-faire attitude on everything from employment to self-medication.
Sure, Joshua makes a mess of the whole family, and he’s one screwed up kid. However, the characters surrounding him bled no sympathy out of me throughout the film.
I will give the filmmakers credit on several fronts, though. First, I found it interesting that they didn’t set out to remake “The Omen.” They held back from the traditional evil child cliches, sometimes a little too much, but it made for a different take on the genre.
Additionally, I found it interesting that they never directly point a finger at Joshua, and they never quite incriminate him on what he does. When all is said and done in the film, we’re pretty sure that he’s a psycho child, but we are left with that nagging feeling that the family may have just been insane. “Joshua” ended up a with a relatively open-ended finale, which was different from most of the standard thrillers out there.
While it’s not a great film, and it might split its audience by driving away the thriller fans by bucking convention yet keep the art-house crowd at bay because it looks too mainstream, “Joshua” should find an audience, albeit small. If you enjoy the limited releases because you’re tired of the Hollywood flash, “Joshua” might be a good choice for a diversion from the usual summer fare.