Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (2021) review: ‘What Josiah Saw’ is a familial collision course.

 

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


Brooklyn Horror Film Festival (2021) review: ‘What Josiah Saw’ reigns holy terror on your nerves.

WHAT JOSIAH SAW

After two decades, a damaged family reunite at their remote farmhouse, where they confront long-buried secrets and sins of the past.


As a child forced to attend Catholic school for eight years, I know a little something about the trauma religion imprints on a young mind. Irrational guilt dwells in my brain to this day. Director Vincent Grashaw’s staggering third feature, What Josiah Saw, delves into how zealous behavior and extreme dysfunction go hand in hand. A portrait of a family’s unspeakable darkness and how it haunts them forever. It is a film that will consume your soul.

Kelli Garner‘s vulnerability as Mary is a stunning turn. With a palpable fear, Garner leaves it all on-screen in an unapologetic performance. Her arc is astonishing. Nick Stahl scared the Jesus out of me most recently in Hunter Hunter. As Eli, Stahl maneuvers past sins with an anxious undercurrent. Like Garner, the emotional journey of Eli will leave you blindsided.

Robert Patrick plays Graham family patriarch, Josiah. His monstrous behavior appears superficially enabled by newfound holy retribution that looks a whole hell of a lot like dogmatic abuse. Patrick’s innate ability to intimidate with as little as a whisper is terrifying. This performance drips with brutal vitriol.

Scott Haze hit the ground running in James Franco‘s Child of God. That part was a brilliant warm-up to playing the role of a traumatized, devoted son. Haze’s character is the final human whipping post on that farm. He breathes life into the part of Thomas, as every beat is a complete journey. The chemistry between Patrick and Haze is electric. 

Carlos Ritter‘s cinematography reflects an ominous mood. He takes advantage of shadows and natural light to create a visual eerieness. Robert Pycior‘s score makes your skin crawl. Writer Robert Alan Dilts‘ screenplay unfolds in chapters. What Josiah Saw could have been developed into a series. Dilts created fully fleshed-out characters. There is that much life in this story. The script’s structure also allows the audience to focus on each Graham family member and their demons. Everyone teetering on the edge of a potential psychotic break. The repeated visual of each character gazing out the farmhouse window is striking. Its cyclical pattern is sheer brilliance.

Each of these elements creates a visceral disquiet that is unshakable for the nearly two-hour run. What Josiah Saw was relentlessly unnerving. The stakes get higher and higher. I had to remind myself to breathe. It is impossible to think Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2021 audiences saw this story coming. The final act is so twisted it will blow your mind, again and again. What Josiah Saw is an unexpected, complex, and shocking watch. It is hands down, the best horror film of the year.


Director:
Vincent Grashaw
Screenwriter:
Robert Alan Dilts
Producer:
Ran Namerode, Vincent Grashaw, Bernie Stern, Angelia Adzic
Cast:
Robert Patrick, Nick Stahl, Scott Haze, Kelli Garner, Tony Hale, Jake Weber