Shudder Streaming: What Josiah Saw (2022) - Reviewed

While the thought of reuniting with family has a positive association for many, others meet it with a feeling of dread.  Unresolved arguments, dark secrets, and histories of abuse haunt many homes, and the Graham family in Vincent Grashaw’s What Josiah Saw is a depiction of the enduring damage these issues cause.  Presented as a Southern Gothic thriller, the more the layers are gradually pulled back, the more the audience understands the extent of this damage, and it’s a disquieting examination of siblings addressing trauma in dramatically different ways.

The Grahams’ history is riddled with tragedy.  When the three children were young, their mother committed suicide and they were raised by their abrasive, alcoholic father Josiah (Robert Patrick).  As adults, the siblings live markedly separate lives.  Thomas (Scott Haze) is mentally disabled and still lives at home, Eli (Nick Stahl) is a criminal with a huge debt to pay, and Mary (Kelli Garner) is trying to adopt a child with her husband.  They receive a notice that a company would like to purchase their farmland and are all forced to converge again for the first time in decades.  As a result, old wounds are reopened and tensions flare as the past comes back to haunt them in a very palpable way.

What Josiah Saw has a trajectory that might surprise some viewers after getting an initial impression of the film in the first chapter.  In some ways, it almost feels like an anthology film with a piece focusing on each sibling, and then a final one uniting the three, helping the previous three tales merge together into a cohesive unit.  It takes a minute to understand that this is the case:  Eli and Mary’s stories unravel with no clear understanding of who these people are at first.  While there’s a brief mention of them in the initial chapter, it takes a moment to settle into how we should be interpreting what we’re watching.  This isn’t inherently bad, but there are elements of their stories that don’t amount to anything and somewhat derail the far more interesting main story of the film.  Mary’s chapter in particular is guilty of this; it’s a long-winded way to tell the audience that she was formerly sterilized, regrets it, and has some pretty nasty nightmares.  This segment drags out the final third of the film after the relatively engaging previous two-thirds.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is its solid acting all across the board.  Robert Patrick is both captivating and repulsing in his depiction of the patriarchal figure Josiah, looming over his children’s lives no matter how hard they try to forget.  He gives such charisma to his drawled dialogue and shows range after he has an ominous dream one night, changing his perspective about God and his family drastically.  Nick Stahl is a convincing ne’er-do-well who comes from a rough past and must commit one criminal act after another to stay afloat, but is very close to drowning.  There are subtleties about his facial expressions that speak volumes when he is forced into committing yet another crime to clean his slate, and we even see some compassion emerge from him before his section comes to a close.  Combined with some cinematography that nicely showcases the intimidating Graham farmlands and harsh desert landscapes, the film paints an unsettling yet compelling portrait of this estranged family and the lives that they lead.

What Josiah Saw starts off strong and has some missteps as it grows closer to its conclusion.  Nevertheless, there’s enough moody ambiance and a disturbing climax worthy enough of giving this one a watch.  No one can choose their biological family, but everyone will feel lucky theirs isn’t the Grahams when the pieces of this puzzle come together in the end.

-Andrea Riley