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Joshua. 2007. Directed by George Ratliff. Screenplay by David Gilbert & Ratliff.
Starring Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael McKean, Jacob Kogan, Nancy Giles, Linda Larkin, Alex Draper, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Ezra Barnes, Jodie Markell, Rufus Collins, Haviland Morris, & Tom Bloom. ATO Pictures.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
The creepy kid sub-genre (if that’s legitimately a thing) in horror is one that’s seen plenty of ripe material. Some of the classics dominate, such as The Omen and the lesser loved but awesome The Good Son featuring young Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood. Then there are others which aren’t as great, though still enjoyable, like Children of the Corn. What makes us so worried in general about the killer kids, the little psychopaths, young boys and girls capable of murder, manipulation, and so much more, is the idea of nature v. nurture. With any representation of evil, adult and child alike, it’s a question of whether innocence is real. If it is inherent in human beings automatically and evil becomes engrained in people throughout the course of their lives. Or if there’s no such thing as innocence, and at birth humans are part of a cosmic Russian Roulette, in which children can come out on the opposite shade of that spectrum.
Joshua examines such questions of innocence. Even after the credits start to roll and we’ve watched with dread those final moments, there are no blatant answers. It may seem like everything’s obvious. Although that’s certainly not the case if you look closely. Added to the finale and its ending there are several key moments which call into question what exactly has happened. People can say they’ve got a definitive answer, and they may offer quite a deal of evidence to that point, yet there will always be a hovering air of mystery. Considering these events, when you look back on the film as a whole you start to try piecing together various theories, moving back and forth between possibilities. Ultimately, this is a strength, as Joshua is highly likely to stick in your mind, days after seeing it, possibly longer. And after so much madness you’ll start to question whether evil really is nurtured all the time after all.
Maybe innocence is far too fleeting.
I love the natural feeling of the relationship between Brad and Abby (Sam Rockwell & Vera Farmiga). One of the biggest things about any drama, no matter what sort of genre boundaries it crosses, is that the character need to feel real. I don’t care what sort of story you’re telling, if the characters in your screenplay don’t connect with people emotionally on some level then there’s really no hope for anything else you’re attempting to do. While this movie is absolutely a (psychological)horror-thriller its main structure is an intense family drama. The foundation of which is always going to be real, honest characters. One example is early on when Brad joins Abby in bed – he’s trying to start sex, without being obnoxious, and his wife isn’t really ready yet, but he’s kissing her ass (literally), telling her how gorgeous she is, to the point of saying he loves how her armpits smell.
When the horror-thriller elements star to kick in hard there are obvious comparisons, and maybe homages, to similar films now considered classics. For instance, just Abby’s hair alone and later her pale complexion will have most people thinking of Rosemary’s Baby. As Joshua (Jacob Kogan) further manipulates his parents he becomes reminiscent of an even more actively involved Damien Thorn.
One of the eeriest scenes comes when the dog dies. The way Joshua mimics his father begins to show us how the boy might possibly be a psychopath. We know already there’s something not quite right, but this is a spooky moment. Even Brad starts to get a peek into the personality of his son, and though he soon forgets mostly about it this is a big turning point. As an audience, we’re gradually privy to more of his creepy behaviour that leads us farther and deeper into the boy’s psychopathy.
Rockwell is a fantastic actor. He does well with a variety of characters, and this is no different. The character of Brad is complex. He’s a very loving, understanding husband, and all at once a man with needs, both emotional and physical. Later on, he becomes a sort of vilified father near the end. So as an actor Rockwell has tons with which he can work. He’s easy to relate with watching him deteriorate, and this is probably why it’s all so effective. We feel for him all the way. Alongside him is Farmiga, another awesome talent. She is always watchable, even in movies where there’s nothing too exciting going on. Here, she’s saddled with playing a role similar to the ones played by Mia Farrow and Lee Remick, only this is a much more realistic portrayal of a woman driven to madness by pregnancy and/or motherhood. It isn’t easy to portray an honest character like this, but Farmiga gives us the good and bad of a new mother, one that’s already experienced the exact same thing not even a decade before. Having seen several women go through that new life as a mother, including the rocky beginnings, I find Farmiga’s performance to be extremely on point. And when Joshua further drives his mother into psychological ruin there are some good scenes between Farmiga and Rockwell, where they give us a devastating look at a corroding marriage.
The best scene of all is the last one in the park, after Brad finally snaps. Everything about it is incredibly well executed. Love the score that accompanies the moment, very ominous and psycho-thriller-esque. But just the way Rockwell goes mental, fighting the men around him, it’s so intensely emotional. The camera draws back, panning out and giving us this almost auditorium-like view of the confrontation. Overall, a wonderful sequence.
This is a 4-star film that I’d put up at the top of the pantheon of creepy kid sub-genre. Of course Joshua doesn’t come along with any of the outright bloody horror many of its counterparts boast. Nonetheless, it is horrific. A psychological thriller with enough viciousness to hold the attention of most. There are good performances, however, the writing is what does most of the work. Not every creepy kid flick has much innovative about its story. What Joshua doesn’t attain in its few missteps it gains back in an overall willingness to step outside the usual expectancies of the sub-genre and it makes up by subverting those ideas, giving us something altogether creepy and slightly original. The film avoids cliche at many turns simply due to the fact it opts for a plot that doesn’t dive into the supernatural. Everything is much too real and impressively believable.
Dig in, you’ll find a treat especially if creepy kids get to you. This is one boy I won’t soon forget.
FOX’s Scream Queen
Season 1, Episode 7: “Beware of Young Girls”
Directed by Barbara Brown
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Seven Minutes in Hell” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mommie Dearest” – click here
And we’re back at Kappa House for another night of horrors, plus a good few laughs.
Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) is consistently hilarious. She’s beyond oblivious, but to the point it’s comical. They all are really. Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande) is being laid to rest. Instead of a nice eulogy, Chanel #1 rants and raves about the “dumb dead whore” in the casket. It’s such a grim crack-up to me. Others will say it’s overkill. Not me. Totally in line with who Chanel #1 is and her personality is meant to be awful.
The others aren’t particularly upset. Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin) is more concerned with stirring shit; between suggesting a seance to mend things with #2 from beyond the grave, to bringing up how #2 banged Chad (Glen Powell).
Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) leads their little Ouija board ceremony, alongside #1, #5, and Hester (Lea Michele). Things start to get a bit spooky once neither of them can admit to moving the Ouija. It spells out the unfaithfulness of Chad. Oh, I get it… obviously the girls are trying to mess with their fearless leader’s head.
More and more, the true character of Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad) comes out. She makes clear their game – her and the Red Devil(s) – is not kidnapping: it is murder. This is wild. Not just that, she and Wes Gardner (Oliver Hudson) are moving along quickly. They’ve got a serious relationship going now. Might spell trouble for Wes, as well as his sweet daughter Grace (Skyler Samuels).
Speaking of Grace, she is trying her hardest to get close with Gigi. Though, the more Grace tackles Gigi’s terrible fashion sense, the closer they’re becoming… the more Gigi digs her nose into things. She’s attempting to push Grace, and reporter Pete (Diego Boneta), towards Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Then we get a nice little Rosemary’s Baby visual homage with Feather McCarthy (Tavi Gevinson) looking so similar to Mia Farrow. Gigi suggests going to talk to her, a former Kappa Sister. Pete and Grace meet with her. She opens up a new little subplot involving Dean Munsch – turns out Feather slept with Munsch’s husband, creating an incredibly tense situation. Apparently, Cathy would then show up everywhere dressed like Feather, terrifying the young girl and everyone else. Lots and lots of stuff pointing towards Munsch as being involved with the Red Devils. But can we believe this? I feel there’s something more devious, more dark at play. But who can tell.
Back at Feather’s house, she discovers an ominous bloody arrow on the floor, a severed arm and motions to go THIS WAY. Further and further she heads upstairs, only to find more chopped body parts, more bloodily written directions on the wall. Inside one of the rooms, there is Steven Munsch (Philip Casnoff) – former husband of the Dean – his head cut off and in a fish tank.
Cut to Chanel #1, who walks in on Chad… in his boxers, lying in bed with a pink-collared goat. I honestly can’t get enough of Chad Radwell. He is a piece of shit, a misogynistic, terribly dumb man. But Chad’s so funny, he is the evisceration of brodom, of the dudebro code and all it represents. Then there’s Chanel – she represents the equally stupid and vicious type of girl who often, too often, falls for a guy like Chad. Together they’re downright ridiculous, which makes me laugh, over and over.
Let’s get back with Munsch, though. Cathy has a bad knee, complaining she fell down drunk last night. But Detective Chisolm (Jim Klock) and all the other cops are determined she killed her ex-husband. In turn, they speculate her to be the Red Devil Killer. I still don’t buy it. She obviously did something stupid a couple decades ago by covering up what happened to that poor pregnant girl in the bloody bathtub. I just do not think she’s part of the killings, moreover I’m convinced she’s a target.
Grace and Pete are already jerking each other off over their supposed victory. Everyone is settled: Dean Cathy Munsch is the killer. Case closed.
Oh, really? Well Munsch wants to see both Grace and Pete in the morning.
At the asylum ward, where Cathy’s now setup painting and relaxing with other patients, the place is rough. It’s part church, part snake pit. Seems like “therapy twice a day, plenty of time to rest and dream again” has started making a difference for the Dean. A bit of a revelation, really. Lots of creepy goodness here slash a few laughs.
Cathy breaks it down for the “crackerjack reporters“, letting them know nothing has been solved. Typical to the slasher sub-genre the police are being lazy, everybody is looking elsewhere than towards the proper directions. Either way, Pete and Grace are playing along for now. Munsch is way too smug to be the real killer, it’s as if she has no fear about any true conviction in the murders, so I’m inclined to keep believing she’s more a target of the Red Devil(s) than anything.
More good tackling of the slasher horror tropes – Pete ends up getting access to a ton of police files, pictures, et cetera, because of the detective’s utter laziness. I find Ryan Murphy & Co. do a great job lampooning so many aspects of the slasher movies we know and love (or hate).
More Ouija board for the Chanels. It only makes them go a little crazy. I’m not sure now if any of them were moving the board because they’re freaked out. Then Hester drops a bomb, saying they have to kill Chanel #1. A couple awesome suggestions from a Sugar Party to poisoning her through the nipples. They’re wasting no time, though. After #1 falls asleep, the ladies plan on murdering her.
Then we get a trippy little sequence where Chanel #1 sees #2 come back. ALSO HILARIOUS! Carl Sagan sits at the front desk of Hell. #2 has to spend eternity picking food out of the Husseins beards with her teeth. SO MANY great lines of dialogue with Ariana Grande delivering them: “She was probably just mad ’cause Adolf Hitler was motorboating my boobs.” Best of all – #2 advises #1 about the upcoming murder plot the girls are planning, apparently off getting a bowling ball to smash her head in. Tricky, tricky! I love that there are supernatural-like aspects coming into play, makes things into even more classic slasher style.
Hmm. We get a scene where Grace and Pete try to find more evidence. He mentions to her a feeling of faintness around blood. Is this purposeful on his part? Or is it a real clue to the fact he can’t be a Red Devil?
Doesn’t matter right now. Munsch is exonerated, back on campus. Little Feather doesn’t appear to be who she seems. Could she be the one who was on the phone with Gigi earlier? Is Feather a Red Devil in league with Gigi? There’s certainly something wild happening around the events at Kappa House.
Chanel #1: “See this is why you turdlets need me. You’re not even competent enough to kill one lousy sorority president.”
Lots of speculation on different parts. The Chanels start to believe Grace and Zayday (Keke Palmer) are the killers. Meanwhile, there’s Munsch and the cops/Grace and Pete who are believing Feather is the one responsible.
The finale of the episode has Dory Previn’s song “Beware of Young Girls” playing, as Munsch prances around back at home. SHOCKER: She did kill her husband! Holy christ, I did not see that coming. What a saucy minx Munsch is, she spun Feather around her finger almost from day one, and then she used the Red Devil(s) killings in order to kill her husband. On top of that, Feather is thrown into a glass jar at the asylum.
Dean Munsch: “Here’s to young girls getting what they had coming to them. Yuu know what they say: nothing tastes as good as revenge feels. Actually they don’t say it, I just sort of made that up, but here’s something they do say: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Such an awesome finale. This is one of my favourite episodes yet in this first season. Excited to see how things start expanding on the new developments in the next episode, “Mommie Dearest”, which I hope will bring more revelation.
Stay tuned with me, friends!
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 11: “Birth”
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Smoldering Children” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Afterbirth” – click here
The very start of this episode shows us more of the relationship between Tate (Evan Peters) and Nora Montgomery (Lily Rabe). While a young Tate, very little, runs around Murder House while his mother leaves him on his own, he comes across the old child of the Montgomerys, lost and filthy and creepy in the basement. Nora shows up and tells Tate about how all he needs to do if the ghosts scare him is close his eyes, then tell them to go away. This sets up not just their relationship, which further compounds after Tate becomes a ghost himself in the house, it also goes deeper in this episode. Later, we’ll see where this comes into play even more.
Now that Violet (Taissa Farmiga) is completely aware of her living dead situation, visually we’re seeing how it affects both her and her father Ben (Dylan McDermott). He tries taking her to go and see Vivien (Connie Britton), as well as bring her home finally, but naturally Violet cannot make it off the property. When Ben pulls out of the driveway, we pan around to Violet up in her window, talking with Tate. She’s slowly accepting the situation, however, that does not make it any better for her.
Moreover, Chad (Zachary Quinto) and Patrick (Teddy Sears) are also planning for the babies. They’re hilarious together, painting the room and the cribs and the dresser, et cetera. Great scene as Tate confronts them saying they ought not mess with Violet’s mother; I thought the way Chad gets in his face and says “What are you gonna do – murder me?” was darkly hilarious yet also just bad ass at the same time. Well written scene. I always enjoy how American Horror Story as a series overall both includes and confronts gay issues. This scene and the whole subplot of Chad/Patrick in Murder House is one small example of how well the series uses gay characters. And why not? Too many people get hung up on the fact they’re gay, instead of simply the fact they’re a human, they’re a person, a character. As long as they’re written well and enjoyable, who cares if the character is gay, straight, transgender, or whatever? I’m glad the writers have the ability to write the characters of Chad and Patrick well enough, they’re a great addition to the whole mix of ghosts traipsing around Murder House.
Also, their addition ups the ante even more, as it seems each and every ghost in the house has their own plan in regards to Vivien Harmon’s babies. It’s almost like an old western where a bunch of outlaws all end up in the same place, each angling to their own ends. Very cool episode in this sense because we get a good look at all that, out in the open.
Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) shows up to help Constance and Violent. I like how Billie is truly psychic, so she can tell Violet is dead. Neat little moment between them while they connect telekinetically.
My favourite part is a brief little bit where Billie tells Constance and Violet all about the supposed story behind Roanoke – the Lost Colony in the 16th century whose citizens all up and left, seemingly. Only the word ‘croatoan’ was left carved in a tree. Of course, Billie’s story is a fabrication, using the idea of spirits lingering to explain how they might purge the spirits o the house; particularly, Constance wants to get “the gays” out.
This all plays more into how the ghosts are all vying for the Harmon babies, each with their own misguided and mental plan to sort of start over and integrate the newborns into the ghostly, haunting family of Murder House.
Vivien’s doctor at the psychiatric hospital advises her and Ben she might need an emergency C-section. This is due to the fact one of the twins seems to be growing at an abnormally fast rate, while the other is growing weaker; the ‘alpha’ is draining all the nutrients, leaving the second to essentially wither away. And we all know what’s going on there, right? That little demon baby is sucking up everything useful, hoping to spring from the womb and deploy its evil.
Once Ben gets back to the house, Violet unfortunately has to make it painfully clear for her father in order for him to accept that she is dead. All the same, Ben doesn’t believe her. Everything comes down at once – right as she’s about to make him understand, Vivien’s water breaks and the birth is upon us.
I think this might be one of my favourite sequences in the entire first season of American Horror Story, maybe even in the series as a whole. Reason being is that it’s intensely chaotic, there are a hundred things happening all at once. We even get the original twins from the Pilot, who help Murder House by smashing up the Harmon vehicle, puncturing its tires and beating it to pieces. Then ole Charles Montgomery (Matt Ross) shows up, the dead 1968 nurses stab holes and all at his side to assist in the birth; they’re all present. It’s one of the most surreal group of scenes out of the season, and that is saying something.
The way it’s shot, half blurry bits as Vivien screams and prepares to give birth to her new twins, it is dark and weird, as well as absolutely beautiful. There is very sombre-like chamber music playing in the background, we get flashbacks to Vivien giving birth to Violet – a much happier time for Ben and Viv – and the whole aesthetic here is out of this world! The dark, candle lit birth is so weird. Shots here remind me of Rosemary’s Baby at times, when the titular character was experiencing those extremely strange dream-like moments (but they were no dreams); this is even more fun because I find there are other moments in Season 1 with Vivien which are definitely an homage to Roman Polanski’s classic psychological horror.
What I’m thrilled so much by is how Violet tries to use the whole Roanoke spell, courtesy of psychic Billie Dean Howard, and it fails hilariously on Chad – that scene was killer. Quinto is full of charisma. The thing I enjoy about that part so much is how Quinto hammers it home that basically there’s no getting rid of the ghosts; they’re doomed for eternity. Chad is stuck with Patrick, a man who doesn’t truly love him, for the rest of time, and so on, and so on. They each have their own burden to bear eternally, there’s no end to it. The pain simply goes on endlessly and there will be no rest. With all the dark comedy on Quinto’s end during that scene, it is actually a traumatic conversation in the end. Violet faces down the fact she’ll never find any sort of peace, ever again. The afterlife is merely an abyss, there’s no closure.
Then poor Vivien – after the savage birth of one stillborn and the child of Rubber Man Tate Langdon a.k.a the offspring of a human and a ghost – bleeds out and passes on to the other side. This moment falls with such heavy impact. Everything from the way it’s shot, to the sound design and dialogue. All those elements come together to make the finale ridiculously spooky. The best shot is how when Vivien finally dies, the camera reveals Ben Harmon alone – his wife pale and dead and the bed covered in blood between her legs and everywhere else – and now all the ghosts are gone. It’s an eerie set of shots.
Furthermore, Violet has been told the truth about her love – Tate the rubber rapist. More and more, she discovers what lies behind Tate. She thought he was merely “attracted to the darkness“, but Violet tells him: “You are the darkness.”
While Tate clearly does love her, he is still an awful and terrible ghost, one who has caused havoc in the afterlife as he so horrifically acted in flesh and blood. So I find the way he and Violet end things here both sad and highly interesting. Finally, she screams at Tate to go away, which we already know is the way to dispatch the ghosts who you don’t want to bother you.
The best part is another pan around reveal – once Violet screams Tate into the mist, the camera turns and sees Vivien caressing her daughter’s head, arm around her shoulder. They’re now together, perhaps even happier in a tragic ghostly sense than ever before.
Massively impressive penultimate episode for the first season. The next episode and finale is fittingly titled “Afterbirth” and is directed by Bradley Buecker, a Ryan Murphy regular on Glee, American Horror Story, and also a producer on Nip/Tuck.
Excited to do a review for the finale, as well as to get on into the Season 2 reviews. Stay tuned for lots more horror and creepy stuff!