JOSHUA. 2007
Director: George Ratliff

Director: Stewart Hendler

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Joshua There's a type of horror film which reflects a cultural fear of children. If children are especially intelligent, they will use their intelligence to cause harm. If they develop a special power, they will use it for harm.

Examples are legion: The Bad Seed (1956), Village of the Damned (1960), the tyke on a trike in The Shining (1980), The Good Son (1993), the entire Children of the Corn franchise, & so on, without even counting those films lin which the child is a j-horror ghost-girl with long wet hair, a hideous mutant, a possessed subject of an exorcism, or the devil's actual offspring.

\In such worldviews, there are no such thing as good or heroic children who would use their powers or intellect to help people. The only reason kids are not universally psycho killers is because they're small & powerless.

This is decidedly different from the societal misogyny that gave rise to a genre of slasher films in which psycho killers prey predominantly on helpless hot chicks. At least these films acknowledge that the cultural core that regards watching women get killed as "entertaining" comes from a dark & crazy place.

When it comes time to at least try to kill the children, by contrast, it isn't done by a psychopath, but but a justified parental figure. If they fail, that's the final horror. Because children just shouldn't live.

JoshuaMy suspicion is this irrational fear of children stems from guilt. In reality children are abused, molested & neglected in staggering numbers. Somewhere in the recesses of an adult mind is a sense that revenge against adults would be justified.

The actual response for children, I fear, is self-blame & unebbing desire to be loved, even if their parents are rotten to the core; & the story that assumes an abused child might still be a good child, using powers beyond belief to protect their vile abusive parents, would be vastly more credible, though it's just not been done that way in film.

Joshua (2007) is one of these fear-of-children films, good of kind. It was briefly packaged as The Devil's Child, a title too terribly misleading so it was soon changed.

We are introduced to a well-cast young actor, Jacob Koban as eight year old Joshua. This young actor seems to understand the concept of "less is more" & presents a blank gaze & dandified veneer that permits to viewer to project onto him every expectation already in them about how bad even a well-behaved child might really be.

JoshuaThe kid is a fine young pianist used to getting all the attention, deploring the intrusion of an infant sister.

And in truth there's a bit of animosity toward him already in the air, as when his performance at the piano wins him an angrily snapped "take an intermission!" because the sound of Beethoven bothers the baby.

I would warn the dear reader of this review to stop now & read no further, as almost anything said of the film will be a spoiler. It would be better to view it before finishing my analysis thereof. If it's review enough, I can assure the reader it's definitely worth watching; its small surprises will be more effective if you enter the film completely uncertain who in the story is the nuttiest of a nutty batch.

So stop reading right here & return to this article after seeing the film, then see if you agree with me about the basis for its capacity to disturb.

JoshuaThe handsome intelligent lad seems to be aware that his priveleged self-important parents are in reality the epitome of inconsequentiality.

And having a high opinion of himself, Joshua doesn't find them worthy of him; so even if they'd remained sufficiently doting & attentive, there's a good chance he'd've still set out to destroy them.

He may or may not be doing something nightly to his baby sister. But every mom's tendency to worry is certainly heightening to the verge of panic.

Having taken an interest in Ancient Egypt & the mummification process, we about half expect Joshua will be using a long skinny spoon to scoop out his baby sister's brains through her nose. But there is no goriness to the film, & though he does eventually get round to mummifying something, in the main this interest merely adds to the suspense of a story that remains strictly psychological.

This kid has a doozy of a plan. His mother, Abby (Vera Farmiga), has spent a little time in the nuthouse, but is now stablized by medication. Joshua's campaign against her is so subtle it seems like she's merely descending into paranoia, & the household formerly idealized in appearances if not in fact is soon disintigrating into despair. By the time Abby snaps, achieving full realization that her own son truly is, however unprovably, a machievellian giant of malice, the only place left for her is the madhouse.

JoshuaAbby tried to warn her husband Brad (Sam Rockwell), but he's not a guy with much of a clue. He tries to cope with being a single father of two whose wife is practically catatonic in the asylum.

It'd be a stressful situation even if Joshua's plan wasn't, in essence, to insure that neither his mother nor his father is ever loved by anyone ever, to the end of their lives. Yep. That's the plan. And honest to shit, it's a much spookier plan than just killing 'em outright.

When his dad at last comes to the realization of how deeply narcisistic & evil his son is, he sets out to protect the infant & himself in the worst conceivable ways, proclaiming open warfare on Joshua. Alas for Brad, Joshua's way, way ahead of him. And before it's over, daddy won't be able to argue very convincingly that he's not himself a vicious child abuser whose kid is innocence personified.

There's a subtle little fillip at the end which showed Joshua capable of something approximating love, for his faggy attentive uncle, which puts Joshua's effete good grooming, love of museums, & hatred of sports, in a slightly homophobic context.

Dallas Roberts excellently plays the urbane martini-swilling Noel Coward type in that border territory of creepy bachelor & endearing uncle.

Joshua's fondness is somehow evidence of an even deeper evil, & that first glint of understanding in his uncle's expression at the end is the film's best, quietest chill.

The closing themesong, David Matthews' "The Fly," is a sweet tune of horror that Explains It All, in case any of us missed the point. It's sung first by Joshua as one of the creepiest serenades of love ever seen on film, then by Matthews behind the end credits. It made me watch all the credits just to hear the song while my stomach continued sinking with a kind of awe for what it reveals. Too bad the whole film wasn't as awe-inspiring as this close, but it's frankly in great part David Matthews' doing.

If I shared a bit more of our cultural phobia about children, the preposterous character of Joshua would've been one of the best psychopaths seen in a while, a well-made & profoundly cynical tale of suspense that completely justifies a terror of little boys.

I don't much share the phobia, though, & it seemed just a little creepier that children are so blithely maligned, as this grows plainly out of adult imagination, not from an exaggeration of any kind of child misbehavior that ever happens.

WhisperThe other sort of Evil Child film involves the supernatural, & the ultimate example is The Omen (1976), which is the frank model for Whisper (2007) which comes off as an unofficial alternate-sequel to the first Omen movie, or a remake with all the good parts taken out.

As our tale opens, fluffy well-groomed feral dogs chase down a young woman (Jennifer Shirley) in the forest, herding her out of the woods onto a freeway where she lets herself be run over & killed.

Such is the opening which in the dvd's extras we find out has a connection to the rest of the story (she was the evil child's nanny), though in the final edit of the film, the opening scene has nothing to do with anything.

The woods where the dogs live will become the major setting for the bulk of the film, but gone from the final edit is any connection to the Evil Child, any reason for the nanny having been in that distant neck of the woods, like much that will unfold, it's all just nonsense.

After the pointless shock opening, we quick-cut to a wealthy mother's home & are introduced to an attractive but decidedly creeply little boy. We wonder why she doesn't seem to notice he's so creepy, but perhaps she's playing along, like the victims of Jerome Bixby's short story "It's a Good Life" adapted to an episode of the original Twilight Zone, & remade by Joe Dante for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).

WhisperThe whole story takes place around Christmas. The holiday season doesn't have a lot to do with the bulk of the tale, but it could be regarded as an addition to the greater body of "Christmas Horrors."

A party is being arranged for nine year old David (Blake Woodruff). Mom (Teryl Rothery) has hired a party magician (Rod Boss) whose routine is interupted when the Santa Claus she also hired turns up.

The hired Santa is Max (Josh Holloway). He's an ex-con who tried for a day or two to follow the straight & narrow, dreaming of running his own greasy spoon cafe. When the bank wouldn't give him fifty-thou on the basis of nothing, he gives up & hires on with a crew planning a kidnapping.

Santa/Max follows the weird little kid outside into the snow-covered gardens (the children who abandoned the magician in favor of Santa conveniently are no longer interested in where Santa's going). The boy seems to be performing a personal ritual involving the corpse of a crow. Soon mom will be calling the police when she realizes the child, along with Santa, have gone missing.

Although this is a medium-bad movie, it is well acted, well photographed, & looks better than it is in substance. Given how lousy horror flicks can be, it could easily be mistaken for pretty good.

WhisperBut as with all too many "nicely dressed good looking dandified evil little kid" movies, the character is preposterous, & the incidents both unconvincing & provided for visual impacts lacking cohesive logic. It's badly written, horrendously edited, & indifferently directed.

The feral dogs, for example, can only be explained by having already seen The Omen so that you know all about hellhounds. Rather chaotically they are threatening defenders of the devil-child, but their presence seems coincidental rather than planned, unless we're to believe the kid chose the location of the wilderness cabin near where the dog-pack already lived.

And then, in the end, the dogs turn out to be manifestations of the doomed souls of the kid's victims, though the dogs were in the story before the victims were dead. You're not supposed to think about it, though; just pretend it makes sense.

Sydney (Michael Rooker) seems to be the head of the little gang of four who kidnapped the kid & took him to the wilderness cabin. He'll be the first on-screen victim when the kid tells him he's going to have a heart attack, & therefore he has one. He's thereafter a spider-infested corpse in the basement, rotting rapidly, turning up later as a zombified mess in dreams or visions to spice up the story.

WhisperThree kidnappers remain, not counting the "secret" mastermind who is only a mechanical voice on the phone. With these three, David plays psychological & supernatural games, controlling them by whispering to them.

The whispering routine, however, seems to have been an afterthought & not well developed. It's as though the film were mostly in the can when someone said, "Hey, we could call it Whisper rather than Icky Devilly Boy like we were thinking," then went back to see if the film could be edited to include a reference or two to the title.

The kid has numerous psychic abilities, & will ultimately admit he's a fallen angel come to Earth as a fisher of doomed souls, though untruthful stinker that he is, perhaps he made even that up.

His demonic origin is not well conveyed as he's otherwise just a little boy who has the powers to do terrible things. His most remarkable ability is as an artist. He rapidly creates menacing murals in a very advanced comic book style with one set of crayons; it's massively unconvincing, both that he can do it or that he'd bother.

The staging of the Doom of Vince (Joel Edgerton) involving sneaky evil David, one of his hellhounds, & an ice-covered lake, is one of the better horror sequences in a film with fewer good bits than it needed. The Doom of Roxane (Sarah Wayne Callies) & the Doom of the Detective (Dule Hill) both fail miserably, for lack of imagination or emotional content.

WhisperThe kid's ability to induce men to turn into psycho killers with just a passing glance is more interesting than the main part of the story; he does this with the tow truck driver (Brad Sihvon) & with the teenager (Cory Monteith) having sex on the side of the road, without ever having direct contact with either.

A better movie could've been made about that ability to transform unhappy guys into instant killers. It's not much developed here, but tossed in to allow for more opportunities for goriness, the primary cast being too few for a large number of gore scenes.

The "surprise" of who is the true mastermind is no surprise at all, & the concluding sequence in which Max stalks after the evil little brat with an axe is one of those "random endings" in no way the inevitable outcome of the tale, a compltely generic end.

The dvd extras include an alternate ending neither worse nor better than the mediocre end they chose. The alternate climax is of value mostly as proof that the filmmakers had not a clue where they were going with this dumbass story.

I wouldn't recommend the film, though if nothing more certain to actually be any good is close to hand, I also wouldn't warn anyone to avoid Whisper at all cost. I'm entertained by just such junk, & so will be others, if you don't expect much.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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