After flirting with the horror genre last year and for the early part of 2022, Netflix seems to have once again forgotten about horror. Meanwhile Shudder continues to platform obscure old horror movies and new ones from across the globe. The platform’s commitment to smaller moves ensures that what we get week in and week out will vary in quality. But its latest release, the Southern Gothic thriller What Josiah Saw, seems to have struck a chord with reviewers.
In a small Texas town, the Graham family farm sits isolated and run down. And its family is broken – the mother committed suicide, two siblings have long since left leaving the remaining sibling to live under the care of a broken father, Josiah. But when developers arrive and offer to buy out the farm, the Graham family reunites and finds themselves confronting long-buried sins.
What Josiah Saw Weaves Its Influences Into a Compelling, Disturbing Thriller
First and foremost, What Josiah Saw is a disturbing thriller that will not be for everyone. Its subject matter – which includes abuse and incest – will be expectedly off-putting for many viewers. Director Vincent Grashaw and writer Robert Alan Dilts also a methodical pace with a story divided into what initially feels like disconnected chapters. Its a story approach that immediately calls to mind Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction. Yet that’s where the comparisons to Tarantino end. Grashaw also occasionally employs surreal imagery that recall David Lynch. While What Josiah Saw weaves these influences into its story, it never feels derivative. Instead Grashaw fuses these elements into his own Southern Gothic thriller defined by washed out colours, a consistently tense atmosphere, and a confident style.
While What Josiah Saw weaves these influences into its story, it never feels derivative.
Much of What Josiah Saw relies on this atmosphere, which is largely maintained by Robert Pycior’s unnerving score. That is, Grashaw and Dilts can’t always keep their branching stories compelling as audiences may wonder where the story is going. Its second chapter, focused on Nick Stahl’s ‘Eli’ initially feels very detached from the movie. Everything comes together in the final 20 minutes that boast a Shyalaman-esque twist. And it’s in these final 20 minutes where What Josiah Saw embraces its Gothic horror roots. Grashaw takes his slow-burn and ratchets things up to an almost unbearable level relying heavily on the sudden knowledge of the Graham’s past sins rather than anything explicitly shown on the screen. And when you think you have figured out everything, Grashaw’s final shot calls everything into question while leaving you utterly disturbed.
What Josiah Saw Benefits From Layered Storytelling and Strong Performances
On one hand, What Josiah Saw is a slow, moody thriller that culminates into an uncomfortably tense finale. Yet it’s also a layered story that leaves much to be unpacked. Undoubtedly, Dilts takes aim at religious fanaticism in more ways than one. The most obvious reference to religious themes is in the movie’s focus on past sins, hellfire, and saving one’s self from damnation. All of the characters also share classic religious or biblical names. And then there’s the title itself. Early in the movie, Josiah wakes up, horrified by something seen off screen, which is accompanied by a jarring score. There’s what Josiah later tells us he saw in that moment. Is Josiah telling the truth? More than likely the truth is complicated like the movie itself.
Yet it’s also a layered story that leaves much to be unpacked.
Strong performances from veteran actors bolster the movie and its dense subtext. An underrated character actor, Robert Patrick (The Faculty, Fire in the Sky) brims with a rage that doesn’t fully peak until the climax. Simply put, Patrick is menacing in What Josiah Saw. Here, Nick Stahl (Carnivale, Terminator: Rise of the Machines) reminds us that he’s a deeply talented performer turning in a complex, layered performance. While they’re likely less familiar to audiences Scott Haze and Kelli Garner disappear into their respective roles.
What Josiah Saw is a Challenging and Unapologetically Disturbing Thriller
Though its pacing and narrative structure are challenging, What Josiah Saw successfully brings together its disparate story threads into chilling finale. What proceeds this finale is an atmospheric, moody Southern Gothic thriller that shows off a tremendous confidence and skill from director Vincent Grashaw. Both disturbing and thought-provoking, What Josiah Saw is a movie that will linger with you long after the credits finish rolling. Part Tarantino, part Lynch, Grashaw draws on his influences to craft his own unique movie. Throw in strong performances from the cast and you have strong contender for one of the better horror movies released this year.