‘What Josiah Saw’ Plot Synopsis
What Josiah Saw is a supernatural horror story currently streaming on Shudder. It plays on some pretty heavy themes, including child abuse and family murder, and as such, isn’t an easy watch.
The movie focuses on the Graham family – patriarch Josiah and his three adult children, Tommy, Eli, and Mary. At the conclusion of this disturbing terror tale, the family reunite after years of being apart. Their meeting does not end well. After a series of unpleasant revelations, a tree burns outside. Carved onto it are the words “sins paid in full.”
But whose sins were paid in full and what do these words mean? Let’s take a closer look at the movie.
Warning: there will be spoilers!
What happens in Chapter 1?
Chapter 1 is entitled ‘The Ghost of Willow Road.’ This is where we meet Josiah and Tommy at the family farmhouse. We learn that Josiah has visions of Miriam, his wife, who died by suicide years before and that he believes she is “burning in hellfire.” She tells him that he and his family will also burn in hell unless they correct their mistakes and make things right with God.
What are these mistakes? Well, sinful things happened in that farmhouse and these are revealed to us as the movie goes on. Josiah’s wife was witness to one sinful event and this was the reason why she decided to kill herself.
It’s clear in this chapter that Josiah’s relationship with Tommy is unhealthy. To clear Tommy’s head of sinful thoughts, Josiah makes his son masturbate in front of him. “God is watching you right now. Finish up and get it done,” he tells the clearly disturbed Tommy who isn’t happy with his father’s request.
Outside of the events in the farmhouse, we also get to meet a representative of an oil company. He is making plans to buy houses in the area, including the Graham farmhouse. This is the catalyst for the family reunion later in the movie.
What happens in Chapter 2?
Chapter 2 is entitled ‘Eli And The Gypsies.’ In this chapter, we get to meet Eli, who was briefly mentioned in the last chapter by his father.
Eli is living in an RV and is under scrutiny by the police after having sex with a minor sometime before. His crime was unintentional according to Eli – he thought she was older than she said – but this is dismissed by the visiting police officer who questions him about a young girl who has gone missing.
Eli visits a local bar where he owes Boon, the local town gangster, some money. To settle his debt, Eli is asked to steal gold from some visiting gypsies. He is joined by Billy and Logan, two of the men who work for Boon, who task themselves with stealing the gold while Eli distracts the gypsy women.
On arrival, the men are greeted and they ingratiate themselves with the gypsies. While Billy and Logan go looking for the gold, Eli gets friendly with one of the women. He is then introduced to a fortune teller who tells him he is going to die soon!
This ominous warning almost comes true when the gypsy realises the men are here for the gold. A fight breaks out and Billy and Logan are killed by the gypsy men.
Eli is able to free himself from the gypsies before he is killed and makes a shocking discovery: they have the missing girl. He rescues her and makes his escape.
He then returns to Boon and hands him the gold. Boon is happy with his prize but after touching the gold, dies of a heart attack. Is this because the gypsies put a curse on the treasure? Possibly.
Eli delivers the girl to the town sheriff and is told to “run far from here.”
At the close of the chapter, Eli heads to the RV where he finds a letter detailing the proposal from the oil company to buy the farmhouse.
What happens in Chapter 3?
Chapter 3 is titled ‘Mary May I.’ The chapter opens with Mary and her husband Ross. We learn that she is hoping to adopt and that she previously removed her ability to have children by having sterile surgery. She has now changed her mind about having a child and believes that adoption will give her the opportunity to love somebody.
We also learn that Mary is mentally unwell and that she is on Ketamine for her mental disorder. We later see her stabbing herself but thankfully, this is just a nightmare.
Eli shows up at her house and he tells her about the proposal to buy the farmhouse. All three of the Graham children need to sign off on the deal so he asks her to travel to the farm with him to speak to Tommy.
Mary seems to be reluctant about going back at first so Eli reminds her of the game they used to play as kids – Mary May I – where she had to do what was asked, no matter what. Mary tells Eli she wants to return anyway to see that the farmhouse has gone for good.
They travel to the farmhouse and it’s here where the family’s sins are revealed.
What are the family’s sins?
These are a little complicated but let’s start with Josiah.
Despite the interactions between Josiah and Tommy earlier in the movie, we learn that Josiah is dead. The traumatised Tommy still has visions of his father, however, although it might be that his pa is actually a ghost.
Tommy talks to his father regardless, much to the surprise of Eli and Mary. They remind him of their father’s death and that they all killed the man when they were kids. They killed him because of the abuse they suffered at his hands. For Eli and Tommy, this abuse was physical (although the scene with Tommy and Josiah in chapter 1 suggests it might have been sexual too), and for Mary, the abuse was allegedly sexual.
The reason for the mom’s death, according to Eli, was the baby that Josiah and his daughter had together. Apparently, this was Josiah’s sin although the vision/ghost of Josiah is enraged at this suggestion.
Tommy is unbelieving of this version of events. According to him, the baby was not Josiah’s. This leads us to Eli and Mary’s sin. Tommy believes Mary became pregnant because of Eli who had sex with her. It is his belief that they are the reason why their mom killed herself.
“You’re still crazy as shit Tommy boy” Eli says to him. But is Tommy crazy? Or was the baby Eli’s?
Who fathered the baby?
It can be assumed that Tommy is telling the truth and that the baby was Eli’s. We can believe this because there is a flashback scene towards the end of the movie showing Eli and Mary having sex in a motel room. Presumably, Eli coaxed Mary into sex when they were younger during the game ‘Mary May I.’ This led to the pregnancy and is likely the reason why Mary had sterile surgery as this removed the possibility of another child from their sexual relationship.
The baby was later killed and according to Tommy, it was Eli and Mary who murdered the child, presumably to remove the evidence of their misdeeds. The body had been buried outside, along with the body of Josiah, but Tommy later brought the bodies inside and hid the remains in a trunk.
When Eli discovers what Tommy has done and confronts him, things get a little crazy.
Tommy kills Eli with an axe (thus confirming the fortune teller’s prophecy) and he then chases Mary outside. He stabs Mary to death (in a similar fashion to the nightmare she had earlier) while the ghost (?) of Josiah is seen drinking in the farmhouse.
Whose sins were paid in full?
Outside the farmhouse, a tree burns with holy fire. On it is a sign reading: “Eli and Mary’s sins paid in full.”
This is further evidence that Tommy wasn’t crazy after all. It would appear that it was Eli and not Josiah who had sex with Mary, although this doesn’t rule out the possibility that Josiah was abusive to all of them.
What does ‘sins paid in full’ mean?
In Christian theology, Jesus paid for our sins in full when He died on the cross.
How this relates to the movie is hard to say. But it could be assumed that Mary and Eli’s sins were paid in full when they faced up to the truth and died at the hands of Tommy. It can also be assumed that Miriam’s sin (of suicide) was paid in full when her children sins came to light. This might mean her soul (and possibly theirs) have now been saved and rescued from the hellfire as their mistakes have “been corrected” and things have “been put right with God.”
If you have thoughts about the movie’s ending and are able to shed light on the meaning of the phrase ‘sins paid in full,’ please leave us a comment in the section below!
Read More: What Josiah Saw Movie Review