A Southern Gothic tale laced with sin and family trauma
What did Josiah see? Well, according to what we hear at the start of the movie, he sees a dancing leprechaun pooping out a rainbow.
As Josiah Graham (Robert Patrick) seems to be a man who is prone to having visions, he likely didn’t see this leprechaun for real. But despite his apparent craziness, the things he sees do have real-world connections. Unfortunately, not all of his visions are as jolly as a little green man doing a jaunty jig for his viewing pleasure.
In this Southern gothic tale of family trauma, abuse, and (apparent) supernatural goings-on, he sees things that are far more disturbing, including a vision of his dead wife who has warnings for both him and his children about the sins of their past.
What are these sins? Well, that is for you to find out if you choose to watch this disturbing chiller. Josiah is a man who is far from innocent and so are his grown children, Eli, Tommy, and Mary, who each have secrets of their own. As the movie runs its course, their secrets (or sins) are revealed and they will likely turn your stomach. To say any more would do a disservice to director Vincent Grashaw who takes his time revealing the truth about the Graham family and the terrible acts that caused Josiah’s wife Miriam to hang herself from a tree.
The movie is split into three chapters and while they might seem unconnected, the events of each are eventually weaved into the central plot. It’s worth paying attention to the dreams and prophecies that each character receives during these chapters (even the vision about the leprechaun) as they are all relevant to the journeys of each of the protagonists as they make their way to the violent and tragic conclusion.
In the first chapter, we meet Josiah and his son Tommy (Scott Haze) and it soon becomes clear that their relationship isn’t a healthy one. A scene in Tommy’s bedroom is particularly troubling and it points to the abuse that Tommy may have suffered as a child at the hands of his pa.
During this chapter, Josiah suddenly turns ‘religious’ after seeing the vision of his dead wife burning in hellfire. She tells him to correct the mistakes of the past as this is the only way the family will receive salvation. Failure to do so will see them all burning in hell so Josiah wastes no time before instructing Tommy on what he needs to do to save his soul.
Chapter 2 focuses on Eli (Nick Stahl) and his criminal past. To pay back a debt to the local town gangster, he is instructed to steal gold from some visiting gypsies. In the process, he is able to redeem himself of the crime he was once convicted of but as we get to learn more about Eli in the third chapter, we discover that there are other ‘sins’ of his that need to be accounted for.
We meet Mary (Kelli Garner) in the third chapter and soon realise that she is just as troubled as her male siblings. This is evidenced by the bottle of Ketamine that she keeps in the bathroom closet but we don’t have time to focus on her psychiatric state for very long as Eli arrives her door with news of an offer from an oil company to buy their old family farm. They travel back to the foreboding childhood home of their past and meet up with Tommy, but while their union is happy at first, things take a dark and violent turn when the family’s sins are revealed.
The director manages to conjure up a sense of dread throughout each of the movie’s chapters. He is slow to reveal the shocking events that are at the core of the Graham family’s sinful past but when he does, they hit us like a sledgehammer. They are extremely disturbing in nature so it’s only right that we should warn you that the things you see and hear may be triggering to you if you have experienced childhood traumas of your own.
But as discomforting as the story is, this isn’t a movie to ignore if you have the stomach for its more gruesome aspects. The acting from all of the main players is exceptional, especially from Scott Haze who deserves to be far more famous than he actually is. You may remember him from James Franco’s Child Of God where he played a dispossessed man trying to exist outside of the social order. He was as brilliant as the lonesome soul in that movie as he is as the tortured individual in this one and it’s time that he was given more parts that enable him to showcase his superior acting talents.
All of the cast deserve credit though as does the cinematographer, Carlos Ritter, who ably matches the grim tone of the story with the dark and oppressive imagery that he captures on screen. This is a quality production in every aspect although the movie’s subject matter and the long-running time can sometimes make it hard to sit through.
Thankfully, the accomplished playing of the cast and the masterful storyline do much to hold our interest as it’s easy to become invested in the lives of these characters, even if they aren’t always likeable.
Despite streaming on Shudder, this isn’t a horror movie in the traditional sense. We are never quite sure whether the ghosts that are featured here are real or just figments of the character’s imagination and there are no real jump scares to speak of. However, the movie is still quite terrifying, more so because certain scenes aren’t beyond the realms of reality. And due to the horrible nature of this family’s sinful past, there is enough here to make you squirm in your seat (and forget your popcorn) while watching.
This is certainly a movie that can be recommended, although you will need to be patient. The answers to the movie’s puzzles are slow to be revealed and even when things start to become clearer, you might still have questions in your head after the credits have rolled.
What Josiah Saw is still rewarding, however, especially if you’re somebody who likes to unravel a movie’s lingering mysteries on your own or with others. If you can prepare yourself for something that will work your brain rather than patronise it, you will get a lot from this unpleasant but mesmerising tale.
Read More: What Josiah Saw Ending Explained
Verdict - 7/10