Ah, the age old tale of a city boy trying to run away from his past when a death in the family pulls him back to his small home town and forces him to come to terms with his inner demons. Sure this is a familiar plot convention. You can see it in the TV show “Six Feet Under” or Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” and it has proven to be a very effective setup. Of course, generally the main character’s inner demons don’t manifest themselves in a deformed, cannibalistic Satan-spawn but “Joshua” is another breed of cat altogether.
The film opens with a series of idyllic shots of small town life. There are kids playing ball in the front yard, a pair of old ladies out for their daily walk, a loving couple reunited after a hard days work, etc. Then we move through the woods on the edge of town and come to a much less inviting place where a poor girl is about to meet her maker. The whole film deals with dark pasts and dirty little secrets tucked away just out of sight and this opening sets that up perfectly.
From there we cut to our hero Kelby who, interestingly enough, is found sleeping in his closet by his girlfriend. Another nice little hint that he may have something to hide. Kelby then proposes but his loving celebration with his new fiancé is cut short when he receives a phone call informing him of his father’s death. Time to go home.
We then follow Kelby and his fiancé as they become reacquainted with his dysfunctional family and odd little town. Mom is never around, Uncle Tom is cursing Dad’s name, little sister is screwing Uncle Tom. You know, the usual. Then we start meeting a different group of people, Kelby’s old school buddies, and this is where things get really interesting. These guys all carry a common burden, all share a dark secret, and it all involves a little boy named Joshua.
Writer/Director Travis Betz does a fantastic job of setting everything up before the dominoes start to fall. He has crafted a movie that would be effective as a straight drama, but given it the added benefit of blood and gore and a fair amount of skin removal. And he does this all with style. “Joshua” is very polished visually and is full of impressive shots and clever compositions.
There is also some nice use of music here. All too often, action and horror movies rely on big bombastic scores that assault your eardrums when they can’t manage to excite or scare you legitimately. Here, composer Jeff Grace often uses light strings and operatic melodies to contrast the horrific visuals. This is a technique that has proven effective in the works of Chan-wook Park and it goes over well here too.
Almost all the actors were really on the ball here, with Ward Roberts standing out in particular. Roberts plays Kelby in a very low key and believable manner. His subtle emotional changes make his decision at the end all the more powerful.
It’s always nice to be completely surprised by a movie. The Fangoria flag is flying high on this one and as such I was expecting a straight gore-fest, and while there are plenty of blood-works here there is also something going on underneath the surface. It also works as reminder to never feed people to children. Seriously, nothing good will come of it.