What Josiah Saw is a brutal story about curses — those cast upon us and those we cast upon ourselves. Thomas Graham (Scott Haze) is a developmentally challenged man living with his elderly father, Josiah (Robert Patrick), on a dilapidated farm in the middle of nowhere. Josiah is domineering. In their youth, Thomas’s mother committed suicide right outside the house, hanging from a small tree. It destroyed their family. It destroyed Thomas. His siblings abandoned the farm and never looked back. Now, Thomas and Josiah run mad together in relative isolation, both believing they can still hear their dearly departed matron burning in endless hellfire.
Director Vincent Grashaw and writer Robert Alan Dilts structure Josiah in roughly three parts, each focused on a different character’s relationship to the Graham family. There’s a feeling of discovery as the story develops. Each new principle adds new wrinkles to the tremendously fucked-up family diaspora and the bad luck that follows them.
The first chapter, “Thomas,” takes a methodic, religious-horror tone; the second, which introduces Eli Graham (Nick Stahl), deals with curses of another kind and becomes more action-oriented; the third, which focuses on a character played by Kelli Garner, is a much more modern, rotten-suburbs suburban horror. All of the pieces fit together as a whole and dovetail nicely while also showcasing different types of horror. It’s impressive how Grashaw and his crew manage to make the three initially disparate tones not feel jarring. Also interesting: Tony Hale plays a frustrated man with a hint of darkness in his heart. Hale has played many roles, but this decidedly against-type character increases the tension of his scenes.
Eventually, of course, the long-lost siblings return to Thomas and Josiah with dollar signs in their eyes. It turns out the Graham house sits on valuable land, and an anxious buyer is eager to take the haunted land off their hands. Thomas doesn’t want to lose the only place he’s ever called home, even if he wakes up screaming every night from nightmares of dead mothers and buried sins. His siblings see it as their only way out of their miserable predicaments.
It’s a minor wonder that Grashaw and Dilts stick the landing in What Josiah Saw, which throws a lot of balls into the air and still manages to surprise by the end. It’s relatively light on gore and jump scares, relying instead on well-paced, natural tension and stellar performances. Stahl and Patrick are standouts, but Garner and Haze are no slouches either. The question at the heart of What Josiah Saw becomes whether something supernatural is afoot or whether this family has destroyed itself beyond repair through lies, selfishness and mutual torment. Again, the curses cast upon us by others and the ones we cast upon ourselves. The horrors of the past inform the horrors of their lives. Whether the Grahams can overcome that is up to them. Is it possible for them to come together one last time without spilling blood? I guess that’s the nature of family reunions.
What Josiah Saw will have an in-person screening at 8:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, Oct. 9, at Living Room Theaters.