Strange but not too strange . . .
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"Cruel children, crying babies,
All grow up as geese and gabies,
Hated, as their age increases,
By their nephews and their nieces."
Robert Louis Stevenson
If you're thinking of starting a family, don't see Joshua. If you think your stockbroker spouse is a stable breadwinner capable of providing you a view of Central Park, don't see Joshua. If you think all your children will be lovable, don't see Joshua.
However, if you want the bejesus scared out of you by a kid so bright he could skip two grades and play Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 12 at recess, director George Ratliff, whose Hell House could have entitled this expert psychological thriller, has fashioned a hell of a cautionary tale about appearances and reality, unlovable kids and their clueless parents. The slow disintegration of an upper-middle class family is so carefully drawn that the first third of the film seems like a walk in the park with a few scrapes from some errant shrubbery. When, however, nine-year old Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan) begins missing his parents' affection, displaced to his crybaby newborn sister, strange but not too strange things happen, not easily ascribable to him.
As in most successful thrillers involving miscreant kids, even to the end is a doubt that they could be the source of the growing terror. Although comparisons to The Bad Seed and Rosemary's Baby seem fair, Kogan bears a strong resemblance to Buddy Swan, who played the young Charles Foster Kane with chilling deadpan. Kane's lifelong hang up over being separated from his family is an appropriate allusion to clarify the psychological ramifications in this film.
Although I was quite pleased with the slow exposition, because I think things unravel slowly in privileged families, the payoff ending came too quickly and without the supernatural underpinnings the buildup seemed to promise.
"Modern children were considerably less innocent than parents and the larger society supposed . . . ." David Elkind, Child Psychologist
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com