Settling in to watch videotaped evidence that mommy never loved me
Joshua is a psychological thriller that plays on every adult's deepest fear: What if children, who are inherently amoral, were also smart enough to successfully fuck with us?
When I was four years old, I stole licorice from Vic's Vegetable Stand. Upon returning home, I told my mother I needed to use the bathroom. I emerged, 15 minutes later, covered in the oozing trackmarks of sticky black candy, my tongue and teeth stained like I'd been chewing betel nut. Needless to say, my intricate plans for world candy thievery were immediately thwarted.
If my sweet malfeasance had taken place in Joshua's world, not only would I have successfully eaten and removed all traces of licorice from my naughty maw, I would have framed the neighbor's child and convinced Vic that he should hire me as in-store security. Joshua, unlike every other nine-year-old in existence, is competent. And that makes him scary as shit.
Joshua is, by his own admission, "a weird son." He plays Beethoven, hates sports, and dresses entirely in tiny business-casual attire. He spends most of his time skulking around with no expression, startling people by creepily emerging from corner shadows or comedically popping out behind open doors. The bad seed's movements are wonderfully choreographed, as if The Omen's Damien were played by Bruce McCullough from Kids in the Hall.
The movie opens with the birth of Joshua's sister Lily — just another perfect child born into family of stinking rich hedge fund jackasses. Perhaps it is this vision of his inevitable future which finally pushes Daddy's Little Slugger over the edge. Joshua spoils the celebration by brattily puking on the hardwoods and cutting the noses off his stuffed animals. He also talks a lot about Egyptian gods that eat their own screams. At the age of nine, Joshua is a petulant, 17-year-old goth.
It takes the kid's parents a long time to figure out that their son is up to no good. If anything, the family just thinks their chid is a bit eccentric, like one of those Asperger's children that ends up in spelling bee documentaries. At the school talent show, Josh transposes Twinkle Twinkle Little Star into a 12-tone atonal composition, but instead of getting their child on Letterman, his parents are embarrassed. Joshua is a genius, proven by the announcement that he might actually be able to skip a grade, possibly two. His skills at retrograde inversion and subtle psychological torture are actually that of a sixth grader.
While much of the movie seemed redundant to me (yep, he's subtly weird, he's giving away all his stuffed animals, he's interested in Egyptian Gods, okay, I get it) the slow pacing worked for me. He's not supernatural, just a supervillain, so it made sense that we would need to get to know the family dynamics in order to understand why it matters that they are being torn apart.
Once the parents figure out that their son is not merely quirky but actually wants to kill shit, the the whole movie gets a-cookin'. The parents are not only "on to" their douchey son, but are determined to fuck with him in kind. This offers a vicarious escape in an era where you need only glimpse at a mall food court to experience frazzled parents being walked all over by juice-stained little shits. Joshua is a shark — cold, manipulative, psychotic. There is nothing redeemable in his character except that he is a child, and our instinct tells us that children must be protected. Oh, the conundrum!
If I was enjoying Joshua before the final, surreal musical number, I was in love by the last three minutes. A crazy child destroys his family then sings an eerie high-pitched Dave Matthews' song about it? Yeah, that'll do me.
A quality monster, I think, is frightening because we don't understand their inner thinking patterns. They are made of grizzly bears, nightmares, and reanimated dead people in hockey masks. It's scary when you can't read someone's expression or reason with them. Using that criteria, children are the scariest monsters of all. Thankfully, the majority of them still have difficulty with geography and sticky jar lids.