What Josiah Saw, 2022.
Directed by Vincent Grashaw.
Starring Robert Patrick, Nick Stahl, Scott Haze, Kelli Garner, Tony Hale, Jake Weber, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Louanne Stephens, Winston James Francis, Lorri Bohnert, Pamela Bell, Troy Powell, Billy Blair, Anthony Gaudioso, Ben Hall, Darryl Cox, Chris Freihofer, Richard L. Olsen, Shannon Moree Smith, Tommy Nash, and Farah White.
A family with buried secrets reunite at a farmhouse after two decades to pay for their past sins.
Several stories are wrapped up in director Vincent Grashaw’s and screenwriter Robert Alan Dilts’s What Josiah Saw. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, the narrative structure resembles an anthology, placing each prolonged chapter under a different horror subgenre. The purpose is to explore three traumatized adult siblings separately and the paths their lives took after a tragic incident when they were children involving the shocking suicide of their religiously devout mother.
Mentally stunted Thomas Graham (Scott Haze) still lives on the family farm with his physically abusive, alcoholic father Josiah (Robert Patrick, continuing to thrive playing one monster after the next). Little details about both of them come to light, but impressive is that both performers avoid caricature territory, finding grounded evil and pain in their characters.
Coupled with the authentic southern drawl and Josiah’s unnerving claims of divine intervention, stating that mom is in hell and that he is being told by angels what to do to reunite the family and atone for their sins, the film is filled with ominous and thick dread even among quietly tense conversational bits. Josiah also begins to use this so-called divine connection as power over Thomas, whether shaming and humiliating him over looking at nude magazines (a gross and unpleasant but terrifically acted segment) or giving orders like a deity regarding what must be done. The uncomfortable chemistry between Robert Patrick and Scott Hate is so unsettlingly captivating that it’s almost frustrating.
What Josiah Saw shifts focus over to Thomas’ brother Eli (Nick Stahl) for roughly 45 minutes. Eli lives in a trailer and has a serious criminal record (although the film seems to treat the character as someone that made a bad honest mistake) while struggling to pay off gambling debts. He also becomes a potential suspect in the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl and finds himself as part of a small crew looking to loot some uncovered gold from a Romani group. The tone here is essentially a wild crime caper woven in fortune-telling that could point to something sinister or nothing. Again, the performances and relentlessly ominous atmosphere keep up engagement levels, even if this middle portion could use some tightening up in the grand scheme of things.
Then there is the lone Graham daughter Mary (Kelli Garner), struggling with mental health and desperately wanting to bring a baby into the world to provide love. Her boyfriend (Tony Hale) is also a self-centered jerk, clueless on how to understand or show support. Of all three chapters, this one gets the short end of the stick when it comes to depth, but once again, the acting and nuanced direction carries the story beats effectively.
There’s also an oil industry person looking to set up profitable operations, but before doing anything must acquire the family’s farm. As such, a letter sent to each family member sets the stage for the inevitable reunion that disturbingly and smartly connects many of the dots placed on our radar throughout the two-hour running time. Admittedly, one of the reveals feels slightly tacky and could have benefited from giving Mary a backstory more equal to her brother counterparts. Otherwise, it’s just one fucked up revelation after another while driving home how difficult (or damn near impossible) it is to move on from trauma.
The cast inhabits characters that easily could have come across as cliché or hollow. However, the dark screenplay, arresting performances, shifting tones, and suffocating Southern Gothic atmosphere render What Josiah Saw more than worth seeing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com