Portentously Moody, What Josiah Saw Thrives on Cast and Direction

Scott Haze as Thomas Graham, Robert Patrick as Josiah Graham | Photo Credit: Shudder

When you see talented names like Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick, Disturbing Behavior’s Nick Stahl, Dawn of the Dead’s (2004) Jake Weber, and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale get together for a horror movie, you pay attention. What Josiah Saw premiered at last year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, but it wasn’t until April of this year that Shudder acquired the southern gothic, despite its overwhelmingly positive Rotten Tomatoes score (an 89% at the time of this review) and user reviews. An ensemble like this doesn’t sign on to just anything, so I was generally hyped about seeing the film ahead of its Shudder release.  

What Josiah Saw banner poster shows Josiah from the back looking out of a window
Photo Credit: Shudder

What Josiah Saw starts off well enough, tonally dreary with a heaping helping of theology and mysticism. Robert Patrick and Scott Haze spar fondly with one another as father Josiah and son Thomas, concerning a yarn about leprechauns in the cornfield as Josiah drinks his evening “tea.” These two Grahams are the only inhabitants left residing in the farmhouse on Willow Road, a place considered haunted by the remaining dying town locals for the apparent suicide of the family matriarch. A death with a profound impact on the young Thomas who found her. Josiah wakes up in a fit one night, having a vision of his wife being consumed in hellfire. The next day he tells Thomas, and the two begin to combat her hell and the hell the family is destined for by living life more piously. 

At this point, the movie changes gear a little. Having momentarily diverted to an oil company’s plans for the land already, we now move to Thomas’ brother Eli (Stahl), who is living life in a manner less than holy. Later, the film navigates to their sister Mary (Kelli Garner), who’s having an interesting reaction to trying to get pregnant with her husband (Hale). What Josiah Saw plays out like an anthology in a round robin of who’s who in the Graham family until finally, everyone ends up back at the farmhouse together.  

Josiah Points up and Thomas looks toward what he's pointing at in What Josiah Saw
Scott Haze as Thomas Graham, Robert Patrick as Josiah Graham | Photo Credit: Shudder

The feeling of a curse permeates throughout this family, accessible through the bleakness in each sibling’s path back toward the farmhouse. The atmosphere is everything in What Josiah Saw, and on occasion, that comes with some disturbing instances mired in the dreaded tone. Director Vincent Grashaw does a beautiful job directing Robert Alan Dilts’ script. Grashaw tries to absorb you in the family drama as much as possible through amazing cinematic shots and a patient pace. The cinematography and lighting in the film speak volumes, making the art department shine as well. The acting shines, working hard to draw you in, but the story itself is clunky and feels more apt for episodic viewing than a cohesive singular narrative. In the film’s two-hour span, I felt like I had watched a miniseries unfold. 

Parts of the film are gripping and shockingly brutal. Still, there exists an unevenness in the rising tension when the film cuts away from our initial POV characters, which feels jarringly episodic. While this helps character building, it doesn’t exactly benefit the main plot. Eli’s story is perhaps the most engaging tale, and while there are some gold references that could be construed as leprechaunish, his overall arc in the film feels more like an episode of True Detective and doesn’t completely fit.  

Eli is shown shirtless in low light with hands all over him in What Josiah Saw
Nick Stahl as Eli Graham | Photo Credit: Shudder

I admired a lot of the beauty in this slow-roll film, but if I’m honest, I suspected the ending almost immediately. There was something off about how that oil scene in relation to what had transpired earlier on during the kitchen table story between Josiah and Thomas that led me to theorize, and there was a particular Villisca look to the Graham family farmhouse that brought it together. Somehow, I knew what to expect and kept waiting for the film to prove me wrong. But it didn’t. The longer What Josiah Saw went on, the less invested I felt because it held no surprise for me, and the reveal of a dark family secret seemed like a moot point against the scope of the overall film. 

After several weeks of movie watching for Fantasia 2022 and knowing the admiration What Josiah Saw received during last year’s festival, I considered that maybe I was suffering from film fatigue. But as I thought that, I had to laugh. For those who don’t know me, I’m a lover of film, all genres but particularly horror. My walls are covered with physical media, and my online library is even more complete. I watch two movies a day, on average, because I enjoy them. I love stories. So, I think that says a lot when I say, I saw all of What Josiah Saw’s twists coming within the first half hour and then had a hard time getting into the film.  

Three people stand side by side wearing paper bags over their heads with the eyeholes cut out
Photo Credit: Shudder

That doesn’t mean there aren’t fantastic performances or great direction here. As I said before, the cast is compelling and superb. And I believe, Grashaw elevates the story to possibly the greatest it can be, but I think most genre fans are going to feel as I do. What Josiah Saw feels more extensive than the contained two-hour film, and yet it feels too long at the same time. The movie is an evocative character drama with supernatural overtones and a cruelty that runs it into horror territory. Fans of moody titles like The Witch or The Innkeepers may enjoy the cinematic qualities of Grenshaw’s work. However, anyone looking for a fun, gory, or frightening experience should look elsewhere. 

What Josiah Saw is now streaming exclusively on Shudder. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

A kid looking creepy

The Harbinger Trailer Promises Creepy Kid Horror at Its Finest

Horror Icons: Jordan Peele Is Writing a Brand New Chapter in Horror