Existing in the same style as the work of Ari Aster in more ways than one, What Josiah Saw masterfully unfolds as a searing familial drama. The horror is in the traumas of the past, and their ripple affects into three dark, distinct futures. Split in three separate parts, the three Graham children have some seriously messed up lives. Slow-burn horror has reached its pinnacle with this twisty and haunting tale.
We start off at a dilapidated old farmhouse, where Thomas (Scott Haze) lives with his grumpy uber-religious father, Josiah (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Thomas is still haunted by the suicide of his mother, left hanging from a tree when he was younger. One night, Josiah sees something awful in his room, pinned down and silently screaming. The next morning, Josiah tells Thomas he “has chores to do,” and that his mother is burning in hellfire. “She suffers, and we’re gonna burn too!” This first segment sets up the base of the drama, as their mother is key to the unfolding events. Her name is carved into the old oak tree in the prologue, and close-ups to the text place particular emphasis on the words.
In the second segment, Eli (Nick Stahl, Disturbing Behavior), one of the Graham sons, is offering to work off his debt however he can—he owes a guy a ton of money. There is a legendary story about gypsies stashing ten bars of gold, and Eli is tasked with following up on this legend. His journey leads him to a rollicking gypsy caravan, where he sits down with a creepy old medium who reads his true intentions like a book. Eli’s story features a slow-motion outburst of violent action. The third story is the shortest one structurally, following Mary (Kelli Garner, Lars and the Real Girl) the only daughter in the Graham family. Mary and Ross (Tony Hale, Arrested Development) are trying to have a child together, but her deteriorating mental and emotional state are a major roadblock. A recurring nightmare that ends with Mary stabbing herself over and over again with a kitchen knife is shocking and terrifying.
What Josiah Saw culminates in a long-awaited family reunion at the farmhouse. All three of these stories come together perfectly in the final act. A beautiful blend of past and present floods revelations and shocking moments into compact character drama. The relationships between the siblings, their father, and the mother come to light, each with their own rippling effect on their final destinations. The foreboding score keeps the atmosphere tense, even as it slowly builds to this explosive denouement.
Most memorable of all, What Josiah Saw has an unforgettable final scene that calls into question everything before it. The lives of Eli, Mary, and Thomas are all stained in the tragedy of their past. Vincent Grashaw knows how to toy with your expectations, and structures the film in a unique way, bleeding out small details only as they become necessary. One terrifying truth has never been more clear: family trauma is scarier than any ghost or demon.
What Josiah Saw screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.