What Josiah Saw (2022) May Haunt or Vex You
Title: What Josiah Saw
First Non-Festival Release: August 4, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Vincent Grashaw
Writer: Robert Alan Dilts
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Starring: Robert Patrick, Nick Stahl, Scott Hae, Kelli Garner
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A fractured family comes to terms with the demons from their youth that have followed them into adulthood. The tale of the Grahams showcases the lives of Thomas (Scott Haze), Eli (Nick Stahl), and Mary (Kelli Garner). Thomas spends his days paralyzed by the ravings of his father, Josiah (Robert Patrick), while he tries to atone for past misdeeds. Eli is strongarmed into stealing from a group of Romani in Texas. Mary struggles to make it through the long and arduous adoption process. Their stories converge when they return home to bury their past and collect money for their property.
Striking visuals and bold character choices contest a sagging pace and meandering storytelling in What Josiah Saw.
Capturing the dreary mood perfectly, What Josiah Saw is filmed in the most dismal way. This is meant to be a compliment because it is capturing the exact tone needed to pull off the film. Muted color pallets and dark shots allow the viewers to soak in a constant state of misery while they watch the Grahams unravel. Once What Josiah Saw crescendos to its finale, it leans in deep to its more shocking and unnerving imagery.
The film could use some serious trimming or re-orientation in terms of storytelling. Broken families are always great starting points, but What Josiah Saw doesn’t tread any new ground to justify its runtime. The pacing seriously hurts the film. While the content itself is interesting, the winding story and slow escalation of the rising action makes it easy to wander.
Familial and generational trauma reverberate for lifetimes. What happened to the Grahams is something that shatters people. No matter how hard the siblings try to move forward, their past keeps bringing them back to that time, both metaphorically and physically. Separating the story into four distinct acts makes it easier to dive deeper into the character motivations behind the three siblings before their timelines converge. All three react differently to their upbringing. From getting in trouble with the law to having psychotic breaks and keeping appearances of a well-maintained life, each Graham has their own survival tactics.
The cast does a fantastic job selling their performances. Each central character is given enough room to appropriately grapple with the serious trauma they experienced growing up. Robert Patrick’s portrayal of Josiah helps accelerate and contextualize their dysfunctions once their story ends. Scott Haze, Nick Stahl, and Kelli Garner work well together when they finally arrive in the same room. Each carry themselves differently from the trauma they have survived which allows the audience to explore different reactions to the same adverse childhood experiences.
While it is a well-made film, it is hard to deny how empty the film feels. Its devotion to its stories within the story makes it difficult to build on the relationships these siblings have together. When in a room, suddenly their backstories are less important than the fact that they appear to be strangers. It’s quite possible that this is the point, but it does detract from the impact of the finale. Furthermore, its narrative structure makes the film feel disjointed. Even though the individual arcs blend into each other in the end, their introduction and subsequent weaving into other overlapping subplots makes the film difficult to follow.
What Josiah Saw is brooding and dark exercise in horror that likely will not be to everyone’s tastes. Choosing to wallow in the depravity of very human horrors, this indie film is likely to inspire feelings of sadness more than fear. There is little reprieve and director Vincent Grashaw feels no remorse in posing difficult questions to his audience. While it should be commended for its exceptional filmmaking, solid performances, and important story, What Josiah Saw does get bogged down by the deliberate pacing and odd story structure. Its parts never quite cohesively come together to piece together the vision of familial trauma Grashaw is going for here. Only for those with the most acute taste for brutal horror dramas, What Josiah Saw is a competent film best viewed by those willing to persevere through the darkness.
Overall Score? 5/10