The Dark Son

Joshua torments his family, and us

Movie Guru

by Lisa Slade

If you're planning on having children anytime in the next few years, don't see Joshua . Or, at the very least, don't sit through the last hour of it. Joshua might serve as an effective form of birth control, a warning against the pitfalls of a modern, consumer society, and a warning against having precocious children, if that were something you could control.

The Joshua we're presented with in the beginning of the film is charming, poised, and always elegant in his starched private school uniform. He's gifted with unnatural intelligence and piano skills any parent would dream for their child to possess. He's perfectly polite, even when saying abnormal things, like telling his father that he doesn't have to love him, or when quietly stating his dislike for all things athletic.

The family is an affluent, New York City family. Joshua's father (Brad, played by Sam Rockwell) is a high-powered businessman with a cocky, abrasive attitude, his stay-at-home mom (Abby, played by Vera Farmiga) is obviously sharp, but constantly bordering on mania, and Joshua (Jacob Kogan) plays an impeccably groomed young son, with wisdom and maturity beyond his nine years. Also, he has Conan O'Brien hair. The family has denounced religion in favor of materialism, and given up a rural, centered existence in favor of a fast-paced, high stakes, urban lifestyle. They've lost touch with reality and with each other. And that's only some of the trouble on the horizon.

When Joshua's mother gives birth to a baby girl, Lily, both dad and mom are ecstatic, and as Joshua falls from his only child status it's clear he's seeking revenge on them, and everyone else around him, family dog included.

This is Jacob Kogan's first big film role, and he's perfect for it. His eyes convey a depth that this slightly clichéd screenplay can't, and gives Joshua an air of such subtle evil that, at first, he's nearly likable. Creepy, but likable.

When things go downhill, they go downhill quickly. First, the mom is picked off, reduced to a hysterical mess of postpartum depression. Newborn Lily won't stop crying. Dad is having trouble at work. All the animals in Joshua's classroom die of inexplicable causes. Joshua is the problem; he's to blame, but he's too smart for anyone to do anything about it.

The pace is almost painfully slow, with only occasional frightening moments spaced between too much creepy piano music and too many scenes of commonplace family neurosisâ"commonplace because it's something we've seen before, in nearly every family-centered independent film. We've become dulled to moms who constantly pop pills and dads who put their careers before their families. We've even been habituated to disturbed children. It's The Omen without as many religious undertones, or The Good Son with a better screenplay.

Despite all of that, this is still a story that haunts. It's most frightening because we never know why Joshua does what he does. He outsmarts those around him at every turn, systematically destroying them. No one sees it coming. As a result, it's easy to feel outsmarted by Joshua . Are we missing something? Is it one step ahead of us? Is there some larger meaning that we're missing? Maybe.

It's also possible that we're the ones who are one jump ahead of the plot. After everything has been hinted at in the first few minutes à the family's neuroses, Joshua's own devious nature, religious and sexual tension à it seems like there must be more. Maybe we are missing something, but more likely there's nothing left to find. It's a good trick, though, and one that will still leave you preoccupied for days.

It's also a stretch to assume that it's entirely Joshua's fault his family comes undone. Sure, he's supposedly making little Lily cry constantly, but we never know how.

It's not to say that this boy is not evil. He is. When a homeless man asks him for change in the park à Joshua's family constantly allows him to wander the New York City streets alone, citing his uncanny maturity as an excuse à he replies, â“I'll give you five dollars if you let me throw a rock at you.â” He's not right, but he's never as wrong as he could be.

The viewer never sees any of the bad deeds, which undoubtedly adds to the mystery, but goes against the best advice of any English Composition professor, â“Show, don't tell.â”

Overall, too much telling and not enough showing is what brings Joshua down. The last 30 minutes leave you looking at your watch and waiting for a climax that never occurs.

Movie Guru Rating:

Video a-Go-Go

Horrorscope

Unlike the more sensational Se7en â"director David Fincher's first film about a serial killerâ" Zodiac (2007) is a subtle, complicated study of crime and character and the obsessions that drive some men beyond the pale, a vacuum-sealed puzzle box of a movie that finds meaning in the mystery rather than in definitive solution.

Zodiac was a real-life serial killer who haunted the San Francisco Bay area of California in the late 1960s, frustrating police by leaving in his wake ciphers that seemed to offer clues, but ultimately left investigators grasping at straws. Fincher relates the story through the prism of three de facto principle investigatorsâ"'Frisco police detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.), and Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). All three men were consumed, after their own fashion, by the facts of the caseâ"Toschi as dedicated cop, Avery as mercurial glory-hound reporter, and Graysmith as a socially-misfit lover of ciphers. And all three saw their lives diminished in profound ways as a consequence of their obsession.

The performances are beyond reproach. We've seen the three lead actors play these parts beforeâ"especially Downey, as the brash-talking alcoholic writer, prone to big screw-ups and even bigger scoopsâ"and the roles fit them like well-tailored suits. But story and pacing are what make Zodiac so compelling, and the constant, tantalizing promise of revelations that never comeâ"or when they do come, never sate.

Word of warning: One of the first movie trailers on the just-released Zodiac DVD is for an extras-laden edition of the film not due until 2008, a version replete with commentaries, missing scenes, and interviews with real-life principles from the unsolved case. If you're interested in owning Zodiac , you may want to hold off on purchasing the current, no-frills release . â" Mike Gibson

 

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