What Josiah Saw [BHFF21 Review]

Vincent Grashaw’s What Josiah Saw is nothing close to what I expected it to be. The movie has complex themes of generational trauma, addiction, suicide, and religion. Filled with foreboding, sinister and dreadful secrets of a family’s past, the director utilizes these themes and crafts a movie that is quite a disturbing psychological thriller. What Josiah Saw is playing at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival and this movie deals with unforeseen forces that torment a family beyond what they expected. Divided into three chapters it tells the stories of the Graham siblings, and everyone in town knows that they live on cursed land.

The film starts with the patriarch of the family, Josiah (Robert Patrick) telling a story to Tommy (Scott Haze), who is intellectually challenged, about a leprechaun he saw outside of the window that morning. Tommy believes that story and laughs but his father, who judges him for believing in God and saying grace before he eats a meal, reveals to him that it was all a lie. The laughter in the house dies and Josiah antagonizes his son by confessing that God isn’t real either. The next sibling is a twin named Eli (Nick Stahl), an ex-convict who lives in the middle of nowhere and led a hard life of drugs and spent time in prison for statutory rape. Eli is forced to complete a mission by the person to whom he owes money by stealing gold from a group of Romanis. When it doesn’t go according to plan, Eli flees to see his twin sister Mary (Kelli Garner), who is dealing with her issues at home. Mary and her husband (Tony Hale) are in the process of adopting a child but she is finding it hard to cope with what is happening around her. She has nightmares of harming herself, which terrifies her a lot. 

When an oil company is interested to buy the farm, the twins are forced to return home, a place that has brought them trauma and grief, including the suicide of their mother in a tree outside their house. They return home to convince Tommy to sell the farm, and some secrets are left buried in the premises that must be hidden away for good. However, things don’t go according to their plan, and Eli and Mary are confronted with a secret of their own. 

What can be said about Grashaw’s What Josiah Saw that hasn’t been said already? Graham and Screenwriter Robert Allan Dilts construct and scatter the story throughout the movie. Dilts reveals their secrets one by one until it exposes the terror that the family has been hiding all these years. It’s unbearable to watch, and yet, What Josiah Saw kept me guessing right until the very end. I had so many questions as to when and what Josiah saw, or was it a memory of what he had seen before, or was it a heinous act that he did that drove his wife to suicide? The last twenty minutes of the movie is incredibly written, and when the assumptions are finally revealed I was shocked by it. 

A movie that deals with the generational and psychological trauma of living in an abusive home are enthralled in the Graham siblings. The horror that each member of the family unfolds is gruesome and deeply heartbreaking, especially Mary who is shaken up about returning to the family farm. Garner captures the traumatizing story of Mary and gives a powerful performance. 

What Josiah Saw is a slow-burn psychological thriller in which the story is spread out to reveal what is underneath the terrible lives of the Graham siblings. The movie deals with their trauma, and still, shows how they treat grief differently. I was sure that the movie would surprise me, and it did. It’s gruesome, heartbreaking, dreadful, and strange but I was engrossed with the siblings’ stories and their childhood at the family farm. Every scene is captured with great detail and captures the awkwardness and raw emotion of the family. The horror isn’t their shared generational trauma but rather the house that they shared with Josiah, a figure that menacingly looms in the dark. The movie subverted my expectations and honestly, I cannot wait to see what Graham comes up with next.