Edinburgh International Film Festival

Joshua (2007)

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Jacob Kogan, Michael McKean

Directed by: George Ratliff

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga and Jacob Kogan in creepy movie Joshua

Thinking of having children? Here are a few good reasons not to. Sleepless nights, dirty nappies, school fees, binge drinking and underage sex – oh, and the risk of producing a semi-autistic, highly intelligent, cold blooded sociopath. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joshua.

In the shadow of the Dakota Building, this beautifully groomed, gifted child prodigy lives with his parents, a wideboy stockbroker, Brad (played with Tom Cruise-esque cocky charisma by Sam Rockwell) and over-sensitive, depression-prone mother, Abby (The Departed's Vera Farmiga). When the film begins, we see Joshua's privileged little bubble burst by the arrival of a baby sister, Lily. As the family coos over its new addition, the stiff little nine-year-old is pushed to the side, playing doom-laden classical music in the corner, with only his camp uncle Ned (Dallas Roberts) for company.

And then things start to go wrong. The previously placid baby begins to scream the place down, day and night, driving the already fragile Abby towards full-blown postnatal depression. The dog dies. Brad's interfering mother slips and falls down a flight of stairs… you get the picture.

Like Joshua's increasingly paranoid father, we suspect that these events are linked – by a creepy little boy with hair so neat it looks like plastic. Next thing we know, Abby is in a mental hospital and Brad is barricading himself and Lily in the bedroom, padlocking the food cupboards, and threatening to send his son away to boarding school. Can Joshua really be blamed for the disintegration of his family, just because he has tidy hair, deadpan delivery, and an unnerving habit of appearing silently behind his parents and making them jump?

Because this film is billed as a psychological horror movie, we assume that he can be, but director and writer George Ratliff certainly likes to keep us guessing, ratcheting up the tension with masterly skill and messing with our assumptions by refusing to make things too obvious (from the moment we discover that Joshua is obsessed with ancient Egyptian death rituals, we're waiting for the mummified pets to appear, but have to sit tight until the end of the film before the stitched up guinea pig makes its debut).

Jacob Kogan as Joshua

Trotting steadfastly in the footsteps of Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, Joshua is, if anything, scarier, because there are no Satanic excuses for the boy's evil behaviour. Unlike Damien, he can't claim that the devil made him do it, and while his evangelical Christian grandmother may blame his godless upbringing (Brad, now a non-believer, and Abby, a 'big fat Jew', have refused to get him baptised), it's clear that Joshua's problems are caused more by nature than nurture.

Intelligent, absorbing and thought-provoking, Joshua is not an on screen terror-fest: it's way too subtle for that. So don't expect a big, bloody finale – the strange twist at the end is more Don't Look Now than The Exorcist – but do expect this film to remain in your head for a wee while afterwards. Do you know what your kids are up to right now? Perhaps you're best off in the dark…

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