A gloomy horror focused on dark family secrets.
Synopsis: A family with buried secrets reunite at a farmhouse after two decades to pay for their past sins.
The Graham family is troubled, to put it lightly. Tommy (Scott Haze) lives at the now neglected farmhouse with his father Josiah (Robert Patrick). His twin siblings, Eli (Nick Stahl) and Mary (Kelli Garner) are estranged, both battling their own demons. When the land is to be sold, the family must reunite to confront their history.
What Josiah Saw is split into clearly defined sections that focus first on Tommy, Eli and Mary separately to begin with before bringing all threads together for the final act. This is a strength of the film, allowing you to understand each of the characters before seeing them interact. This effect is furthered by each segment having different tones, looks and feels to drive home how fractured they are while also adding to the control the house appears to have over them. It is the kind of story you could easily see expanded to a series of episodes and would perhaps sit more comfortably within that format with an ability to dig into those characters further. This is not to say that the characters aren’t clear within the film, as they are, but there is the sense that the writing could peel back further layers.
With a two-hour runtime, Josiah is a slow-burning narrative. This, along with the grim subject matter that permeates the film will make it a difficult sell for some. The overwhelming influence of troubling patriarchal figure Josiah (played to perfection by Robert Patrick) looms large over the film with his unpredictable, aggressive drunk immediately setting up a distinct discomfort. The horror here, while it is keen to prod at belief systems and the afterlife, is mainly situated in the haunting situations the characters find themselves in. Moments of jolting horror work incredibly well, bursting through whenever the emotion seems to swell beyond concrete reality.
What Josiah Saw is incredibly matter-of-fact in the presentation of its flawed characters, often allowing their sins to be vocalised by those around them. The characters are never allowed to forget where they have come from or the things they have done. Eli is ostracised and isolated due to his crimes and that isolation forces him into ever more dangerous situations. His thread seems the longest here, featuring a sequence at a Romani community (note: there are several uses of slurs within this that illustrate the kind of background Eli and his cohorts are from). This section does feel prolonged, seemingly introduced to showcase that this call to right a wrong is not only based in Josiah’s religious belief but an overall calling. Tommy is isolated too by his difficulties and proximity to Josiah, whose unusual behaviours keep others at bay.
The theme of reckoning hangs over the film and indeed, the righting of wrongs is a central driving force for characters. It is notable that Miriam, their long-departed mother, is repeatedly viewed in sainted terms by the family and those outside it. This makes Mary’s thread the more interesting one, for me at least, so it is a shame that only a relatively small amount of surface discussion is given over to her own reckoning with motherhood and being a wife. Outside of her loudly soundtracked, dark workouts, a slow, ominous zoom on a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ sign that heralds a triggering moment for Mary is just one of the ways the film captures her discomfort in cosy domesticity. Kelli Garner’s performance is so good that you want to see more of her narrative than is provided.
There is something to be said for horror that truly leans into its bleakness. Comparisons to the likes of The Dark and The Wicked and even The Righteous are understandable given their focus on uncovering secrets and the darkness within generations. What Josiah Saw stands as perhaps a more mellow, grounded take on those themes, although keeps those stabs of horror strings for its most dramatic moments to truly unnerve. The final act does deliver on all the slower discomfort it has built, landing several gut punches that are all the more jolting for the
What Josiah Saw is a confronting work with some balancing issues in terms of the weight given to character stories.
3.5 out of 5 stars
What Josiah Saw streams on Shudder from August 4th. Available on Shudder U.S., Shudder CA, Shudder UKI, and Shudder ANZ.