Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
At first glance, 2007’s Joshua could be written off as a retread of The Omen — a bad-seed boy germinating into a murderer as frazzled parents piece it together.
But George Ratliff’s unfairly passed-over piece of sinister slow-burn terror disarmingly chipped away at the idea of parental readiness with mounting dread and gruesome humor.
Joshua (Jacob Kogan) is a fastidious, piano-playing kid with a closet full of blazers, a Young Republican haircut, creepy calligraphic writing and a thing for taxidermy. But Ratliff isn’t content to merely let him plot against Brad and Abby (Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga), his upwardly mobile parents, and rob them of their comfort and sanity.
It’s that they just might deserve Joshua’s dastardliness — birthing a second child, Lily, under the selfish pretense that she’ll patch their many problems.
Joshua’s escalating schemes and vicious endgame would seem farfetched if Kogan didn’t render him the genre’s most legitimately frightening little bastard. Fascinated by his biblical namesake’s talent for burning things to the ground, he believes he can do it, too, and so will you. (Plus, the way Kogan purposefully saunters into the path of an oncoming dodgeball is sublime comic stuff.)
Even more frighteningly, Ratliff lets us understand why Joshua’s doing it. Promise a kid your love, and he’ll seek proof, all right. All Joshua does is test such tossed-off pledges, with frightening thoroughness, until discovering they’ve always been false and taking preventive measures to, in his eyes, save Lily.
Joshua is a film that burrows under the skin and stays there.