‘What Josiah Saw’ comes to the table with a lot of elements that immediately get me on board for a horror film. Its gothic rural vibe combined with dark secrets haunting its characters filmed in a color palette best described as “depressed small town” combine to make this the sort of film I’m ready to click play on right away. Filmed in Oklahoma, the feel of this film is less deep south and more that specific part of the Midwest where people are immediately suspicious of you even though they can’t help but be polite to your face. The unease that director Vincent Grashaw builds in the first 30 minutes of the film is held at a low simmer by an incredibly solid cast. Robert Patrick (Terminator, The Faculty), Nick Stahl (Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, The Man Without A Face), Scott Haze (Jurassic World Dominion, Antlers) and Kelli Garner (Lars and the Real Girl) make up the Graham family. Father, Josiah (Patrick) and his youngest son, Thomas (Haze), are all the only members remaining on the family farm with twin siblings Eli (Stahl) and Mary (Garner) having been estranged for two decades. After experiencing terrifying visions from beyond, Josiah decides they must change their ways to right a great wrong. The eldest children are enticed to sell the property and reunite at the old farmhouse in hopes of closing this haunting chapter of their lives for good.
If ‘What Josiah Saw’ stayed in this lane throughout I would be here to tell you that you simply must see this movie and I imagine it would be among my top films of the year. The acting is outstanding and the opening story has more than enough meat to explore for the entire run time of the feature. Instead what happens in the middle is incredibly disappointing.
After meeting Josiah and Thomas we shift gears to find out what Eli and Mary have been up to. The Eli story in particular is where the film becomes tedious and needlessly drawn out. With a two hour run time, easily 30 minutes could have been cut out of this part and the story would have been better for it. Let me be more specific, there are nearly 30 minutes at this point in the movie where the story devolves into a wildly racist interlude where Eli has a run in with a traveling group of Romani people and absolutely none of it is critical to the plot. One could make an argument that the racism depicted is that of the characters and not filmmakers…if it were coming exclusively from the characters. Instead this group of people is portrayed solely in racist sterotypes that range from dismissive (mystical fortune telling and carnival work) to criminal (straight up stealing white children). This is all to serve the end in giving us a reason for Eli to need money and to go back to the family farm to hide out, but that reason was already met when we discover he owes a gambling debt to a shady and ruthless bar owner.
After this wraps up all too cleanly we get a much shorter interlude to introduce us to Mary. While it feels brief in comparison to Eli’s backstory it gives us just about enough to know where Mary is coming from. By the time we get the family all back together for the climax there just isn’t much time left to savor what is really a very satisfying climax. In fact, I liked the ending so much that I left even more angry at the bloated and pointless middle section!
Ultimately ‘What Josiah Saw’ is deeply disappointing, not because it didn’t do anything right, but because it started so strongly only to waste all of its potential at its overworked midpoint.
‘What Josiah Saw’ streams exclusively on Shudder starting August 4th, 2022.