Apparently, last summer’s somnambulant remake of The Omen didn’t put an end to bad-seed cinema after all. Thankfully, Joshua, a dry thriller about a gifted, nonsupernaturally creepy child with trouble in mind, is, for the most part, a blessedly different beast altogether. The film successfully flips the genre on its horned little head: With no demons, telekinetic powers or crazed rottweilers to blame, the question of why a nine-year-old would turn destructive hits distressingly close to home.
The movie never quite provides an answer, instead provoking contemplation and chills largely via suggestion, as the eponymous Manhattan-dwelling minimonster (Wonder Showzen kid-on-the-beat Kogan) takes drastic measures when his self-absorbed nouveau riche parents (Rockwell and Farmiga) shift their attention to a new baby daughter. The sociopathic prodigy’s fey uncle (Dallas Roberts) and hyper-Christian grandmother (Celia Weston) attempt to fill the resulting nurture gap, but Joshua’s nature is more inclined to carefully staged acts of vengeful violence.
Director and coscreenwriter George Ratliff keeps things nicely off-kilter by identifying with the boy’s age-appropriate emotional neediness while also sympathizing with the adults he so smugly antagonizes. But the film falters in the clinch, and several of its sequences and characterizations prove clumsily distracting—including the key shock scene, a surreptitiously videotaped nighttime crib raid that falls frustratingly flat. The cast works hard to overcome these failings, with Farmiga and the amazing Kogan standing out. Despite its confoundingly abrupt ending, Joshua leaves a lingering sadness no amount of canned devilry could touch.