WHAT JOSIAH SAW
What Josiah Saw the new indie feature from Vincent Grashaw, is one twisted picture. In some ways, I wish the feature had been split up into a 3 episode limited series to slowly spoon-feed the viewer its multiple moments of trauma and dread. Instead, it hits you in a 1 hour 56-minute wallop – I left the film feeling dispirited and numb, my emotions frayed. This reaction is also a testament to many of the film’s characters, and my desire to spend more time learning about them before they are plunged into terrifying and tragic circumstances.
The film is roughly divided into 3 parts, each following one of the Graham children. The troubled youngest child, Thomas (Scott Haze) still lives on the family farm with his father, Josiah (a sickly-looking but still magnificently creepy Robert Patrick). Part 2 follows older brother Eli (Nick Stahl) is an addict who has been forced into a criminal style. In the final chapter, we meet sister Mary (Kelli Garner), who has married and moved away but still bears obvious trauma and scars from her childhood. When a group of developers tries to buy the farm, the film inevitably sets these 3 siblings and their father on a dramatic collision course.
Each segment of the film has a very different tone. The early scenes on the farm (where, years earlier, Josiah’s wife mysteriously committed suicide) are filled with eerie unease. Josiah and Thomas’ relationship is tense and cold. It feels very much like a haunted house film. I feel like Robert Patrick has been playing supremely creepy characters for my whole lifetime – he slips into these roles without even trying. There’s a scene where Josiah gives Thomas some fatherly advice that is some of Patrick’s most squirm-inducing work to date.
This tone drastically shifts in the second segment, which focuses on Eli trying to steal a trunk of gold from a traveling group of Romani. You read that right. This section works even though it represents a drastic tonal departure from the early plot. It’s the lightest section of the narrative and the only part of the film where the audience gets to have a little fun. Stahl gives an incredibly versatile performance in this film, imbuing Eli with equal parts charisma and self-doubt. They could have made a whole movie focusing on this segment alone.
Mary’s introduction is rushed, and the film’s final chapter is mostly concerned with reuniting the siblings on the family farm. And that’s when things really get weird. The film’s finale is powerful and brutal. It left my head spinning. I can’t say I want to watch this film again, but I know I’ll be thinking about its implications for a long time.
You can read Liz’s #BHFF2021 review of What Josiah Saw here…