WHAT JOSIAH SAW Review – Familial Trauma, Long-Kept Secrets, and a Hint of Farmhouse Horror

Breanna Lucci says What Josiah Saw depicts a haunting world where the only thing scarier than the dead is the living.


Robert Patrick as Josiah Graham in Shudder Original WHAT JOSIAH SAW directed by Vincent Grashaw.
Courtesy of Shudder, AMC Networks

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SELF HARM]


The latest Shudder Original reveals that secrets can only stay buried for so long. Vincent Grashaw directs this psychological horror starring Nick Stahl, Scott Haze, Kelli Garner, and Robert Patrick. Their captivating performances immerse audiences with frightening realism. What Josiah Saw tells a disturbing story about familial damage and the weight of long-kept secrets. Grashaw’s intent is clear: trauma seeps more profoundly into the soil than a shovel can dig.

When a young mother of three commits suicide outside her family’s idyllic farmhouse, everyone is left with devastating questions. Her twins Eli (Stahl) and Mary (Garner) and youngest son Tommy (Haze) struggle to cope for many years to come. As time passes, the neighborhood whispers of her ghost haunting the house become a fixture in the community. Decades of hard-kept family secrets bubble to the surface for the three estranged siblings when an oil tycoon seeks to purchase the land beneath their family home.


Carlos Ritter’s cinematography tells a disjointed story. It feels both disconnected and intimately intertwined, as every character has their own differing yet convergent struggles. Tommy’s introduction is slow and careful, showcasing his constant failed attempts at fixing the old family tractor. Eli and Mary are similar in theme but different in scope. Eli, struggling with addiction, makes his first appearance as a sex worker—as he finishes the job, his client offers drugs in exchange for services. Trying to move on with her life, Mary tries to convince a social worker of her suitability to be a mother while seeking adoption. These diverging stories are carefully told in images, giving us a steady glimpse into each sibling’s troubles. Ritter’s work toes the line between fiction and reality, often leaving us wondering if what’s happened is true. While sometimes confusing, Ritter finds a way to hold our attention with quick, frenzied images before slowly transitioning to focused shots of the characters falling back into the real world.


Grashaw delivers an acute sense of dread that permeates this haunting psychological horror with a fascinating depiction of childhood trauma’s long lingering effects.

Robert Pycior’s score, coupled with Ritter’s images, amplifies the experience; the music swirls and crescendos, effectively pulling the audience through an anxious state with the characters. While gut-wrenching, Robert Alan Dilts’ story shoves trauma into the forefront and opens a critical discussion about how deeply hidden offenses are impossible to escape.

Mary’s character best depicts this. The atrocities of her childhood undoubtedly affect her as an adult. Despite her many attempts to fill the ever-growing void of pain inside her (whether it be with an adopted child, medication, or self-harm), she cannot escape the turmoil of her past. Her marriage, held together by nothing more than a fraying piece of string, sustains further tension as friends at a dinner party ask her and her husband about their struggle to adopt. While they want to, it’s challenging to convince adoption agencies that Mary is of sound mind. Under the party’s pressure, she cracks, creating an entirely uncomfortable situation as she interrogates their friend about their motives. This unraveling beautifully portrays how one’s past intimately impacts one’s present, and Mary is a poster child for how undiscussed childhood trauma never entirely disappears.


[Read] SHE WILL Review – You Can Only Bury Your Trauma for So Long

Kelli Garner and Nick Stahl in Shudder Original WHAT JOSIAH SAW directed by Vincent Grashaw.
Courtesy of Shudder, AMC Networks

Mary’s struggle to cope contrasts with Tommy and Eli’s. While everyone is fighting in their own ways, Tommy has never been able to leave the family home. He and his father (Patrick) can’t escape the decaying structure. Their profoundly inappropriate relationship often crosses the line between insanity and docile domestication, which echoes his sibling’s struggles. Eli, who found the strength to leave, now struggles with addiction and gambling debts. Watching how each handles the consequences of their pressure cooker childhood is intriguing. However, the film would be better served if approached differently. The two-hour movie is told in four parts, building each character’s backstory, but this lengthy exploration is far too long. However, this didn’t put a damper on the viewing experience.


Grashaw delivers an acute sense of dread that permeates this haunting psychological horror with a fascinating depiction of childhood trauma’s long lingering effects.


What Josiah Saw premieres today and is streaming exclusively on Shudder.


 



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