DVD Review: Joshua

Joshua (Fox Searchlight)

A success at Sundance that didn't get the theatrical box office it (mostly) deserves, this effective and unconventional horror chiller mines the old "demon seed" quarry of creepy-kid suspense films. This one's a real audience-splitter, though, with one half of its viewership likely to be unsatisfied by its ambiguities, contrivances and red herrings, not to mention its pervading air of asphyxiating unpleasantness. Meanwhile, others will appreciate how Joshua injects a non-formulaic degree of generational angst and naturalistic parental anxiety to its core of nervous dread, making Joshua a bewildering extension rather than a retread of this played-out sub-genre.

Jacob Kogan plays nine-year-old Joshua, the first-born son of affluent young Manhattan couple Brad and Abby Cairn (terrific Sam Rockwell and irksome Vera Farmiga). An unfathomably morbid and precocious prodigy -- classical piano, dressing only in formal wear, and ancient Egyptian embalming techniques are among his little hobbies -- Joshua doesn't quite take to the arrival of a second child, a perpetually screaming baby girl. The family can't miss the macabre Omen-like clues, such as a ritually disemboweled stuffed animal, assorted dead pets, a bumped-off granny and other incidents suggesting that the alienated and increasingly sociopathic Joshua deserves a time-out. Each parent individually unravels. Abby, on the greased slide toward a complete psychotic snap, feels their luxurious Central Park high rise home become more claustrophobic and threatening day by day. Adding to the tension are Abby's gay aesthete brother (Dallas Roberts) and Brad's braying born-again mother (Celia Weston).

The cast, especially Rockwell, earned their pay, and cinematographer Benoît Debie deserves great credit for the atmospherics. The climax's revelations will prompt some eyebrow raising, but not everyone will feel that the muted payoff is worthy of the travel getting there.

The DVD includes DTS 5.1 audio, a commentary track from writer/director George Ratliff and co-screenwriter David Gilbert, deleted and extended scenes, Jacob Kogan's audition tapes, the typical press junket interviews with cast and crew, and the music video of "The Fly" by Dave Matthews, whose production company was behind the film.