Fantasia 2021 Review: WHAT JOSIAH SAW, a Tense And Devastating Southern Gothic Tale in Four Parts
An oil company is buying up land around an all but dead American town in the South. One of the last holdouts is the old Graham place on the outskirts. However, it comes with a warning - the land is cursed. At least the locals believe it to be. Tommy Graham lives at the home with his father, the cantankerous and caustic Josiah. Tommy’s brother and sister, Eli and Mary, left home a long time ago; they now live at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Late one night though Josiah gets a visit and a message that sends him on the path of righteousness, much to Tommy’s delight. To make things right they’ve got to fix up the old place and sort out their lives.
When Eli and Mary return home to convince their brother to sell the family home all their stories come together for an insane and shocking climax that will be the talk of the festival for days after.
We did not plan on putting down cliches when preparing for this review but let’s get straight to the one of the absolute truths of Vincent Grashaw’s horror thriller, What Josiah Saw. Robert Patrick is an absolute force to be reckoned with. It’s just an incredible performance that sears with menace and malevolence. It would be easy to spurt superlatives and say that it is the performance of his career. At the very least it will rank up there as one of his best. Even after ‘finding religion’ he is still terrifying as hell.
He’s not the only one delivering a lights out performance. The acting from everyone in this film is so on point. As the Graham kids, Scott Haze, Nick Stahl and Kelli Garner deliver tortured and burdened performances, fraught with fear, danger and sadness, for every one of them are harboring horrible or shameful secrets. Patrick’s dark presence is nearly matched by Jake Weber and his role as the local gang boss, Boone. Speak softly, as they say. Gosh, even Tony Hale in his minor role as Mary’s husband, Ross, kills it. Everyone is so committed to delivering all this hate, pain and sorrow.
All of this perfect anguish and horror comes from first time writer Robert Alan Dilts. Oh, we are definitely going to keep an eye out for this fella. The film is divided into four chapters, the first three for each sibling, the final chapter for the finale when they return home. Each chapter on their own is deep enough that alone they can be made into a full length feature film. That’s just how good the writing is in this film. Then you have taken a line of dialogue of something so seemingly innocent like, “Show me how you ride that bicycle”, and you have turned it in a way that we can no longer think about it in its purest intention.
We also have to take a moment to recognize the contributions made by composer Robert Pycior and cinematographer Carlos Ritter. Pycior's music stretches out screams of sonic horror, flooding your senses and helping bring you to the breaking point when needed. Ritter's work begins with views of the quiet and rolling hills of Oklahoma, keeping the tones neutral and lifeless, using warm light when the tension escalates. It is not what you call pretty to look at but it looks very good. We recognize their work is a part of this film's success.
What Josiah Saw screams at you with quiet violence. There is so much more that we want to talk about but there is so much for everyone to discover at every turn in Grashaw’s tremendously tense and terrifying horror thriller. We would rather not spoil it for the rest of you. Come for the performances, stay for the horror and terror. This is a terrific first time screenplay from Robert Alan Dilts which asks hard questions about funamentalist faith, mental health and addiction, and toxic family attachments. A tremendously tense and terrifying horror thriller, it will forever rank among the best southern gothic films.
The truth will not set the Graham family free, their secrets have soaked into the land and the land is ready to reveal it all.
What Josiah Saw
- Vincent Grashaw
- Robert Alan Dilts
- Robert Patrick
- Nick Stahl
- Scott Haze