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Premieres & Events

Joshua Comes Home to Upper East Side

By Chris Willard

The Reeler made a quick stop Tuesday at the Lighthouse Theater for a special cast and crew screening of the thriller Joshua before the film opens Friday in New York. We were just a few blocks from the film's Fifth Avenue locale, and we weren't alone; photographers screaming “to your right” at the film’s star Vera Farmiga and random guests like David Schwimmer so overwhelmed the press line that all four reporters in attendance were eventually ushered to a place of quiet seclusion yards away from the clicking shutters.


Mother's day: Vera Farmiga at Tuesday's special screening of Joshua (Photo: WireImage)

There, the film’s director, George Ratliff, best known for his documentaries Plutonium Circus and Hell House, told us more about his story of young piano prodigy Joshua Cairn (12-year-old Jacob Kogan), who becomes convinced his successful Manhattanite parents no longer love him after the birth of his baby sister. His mother Abby (Farmiga), prone to bouts of depression and hallucinations, devotes all of her attention to her newborn; his father Brad (Sam Rockwell) has difficulty connecting with Joshua while spending the majority of his time at work. Joshua strikes at his parents through a series of psychological battles, orchestrating an eerie game of hide-and-seek in an abandoned apartment, the deaths of a couple of family pets and a succession of other events that slowly drive his mother insane and turn his father violent.

Ratliff said he wanted to make a horror movie with a realistic premise instead of relying on supernatural elements to provide the scares. He told The Reeler the trick was in transforming the angelic 12-year-old Jacob Kogan, whose previous acting experience was limited to one episode of MTV2’s Wonder Showzen, into the onscreen menace. “Jacob is just a wonderfully gifted actor and has amazing instincts,” Ratliff said. “But he’s become a much better actor during this process because he sort of tracked Sam Rockwell and kind of became a little Rockwellite. [He] became a little method actor. But what was important, I thought, was the physicality. There’s such a stillness to the performance, and actually the one thing I watched with him was Ian Holm’s performance in Alien just because I think that physicality is so spot-on -- like, creepy and subtle."

Often straight-faced with an occasional maniacal grin, Kogan's performance capitalizes on that subtlety. The scares come not from Joshua's misdeeds but rather from the audience’s unwillingness to believe that an innocent-looking, intelligent child can be capable of what is necessary -- lying, psychological torture and murder -- to get the attention he craves. “What was exciting to me was that (the story) sort of played with a primal fear that sort of everyone who thinks of having kids has,” Ratliff said in a separate interview a few weeks earlier. “I came across it when my brother had his first son. I was riding in the car with him, and I was like, ‘I’m so excited. This kid could be a doctor; he could be a lawyer.’ And he was driving, and very solemnly he said, ‘You know, he could be a serial killer.’ It’s true he could be. I think it’s much scarier if there was absolutely no reason why Joshua was the way he was. He was just genetically bad. He had no control over it at all.”

And though it's debatable where Kogan’s Joshua falls in the canon of cinema’s numerous other bad kids, the young actor’s performance left at least one viewer unconvinced: As I was being ushered through the lobby, I overheard a man telling a stranger, “I’m the grandfather of Joshua -- Jacob Kogan. He really is a sweet kid.” If only the same could be said for Joshua.

Visit The Reeler Friday for a flashback with director George Ratliff from Joshua's run at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Posted at July 5, 2007 7:03 AM

Comments (1)

JOSHUA

It’s not surprising that “Joshua” was an official selection for the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. “Joshua” is an emotional magnet; viewers sympathize with all of the characters, including the young, prodigious sociopath whose moniker titles the film. As compelling as it is tragic, “Joshua” highlights many ills of the domestic sphere, ranging from postpartum depression to child neglect. Vera Farmiga’s (Abby Cairn) portrayal of a mother suffering from postpartum depression is phenomenal; I found myself actually reacting to a character, loathing her for her lack of sense. Such a reaction I find to be a rarity in modern cinema, as few actors can pull viewers into a dimension where lines, sets, and character pretenses become what they are meant to be – a story devoid of actors and rich with humanity.

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