So, it's not "Rosemary's Baby," but George Ratliff's "Joshua" is nevertheless languidly seductive and creepy, perfect for a hot summer night when nobody has the energy to pose a lot of questions.
Not least among its pleasures is the chance to briefly inhabit the world of the newly superrich — that "it" über-class everyone is talking about lately. Shot on location in New York, every inch of the movie looks burnished, lush and expensive. You couldn't pick a nicer place to fall apart in after your evil kid starts wrecking your life.
Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan) is a highly intelligent, unusually formal 9-year-old who dislikes sports and loves Bartók and his sophisticated composer uncle, Ned (Dallas Roberts). He lives in hip Edwardian style high above Central Park with his father, Brad (Sam Rockwell), a hedge fund guy, and his mom, Abby (Vera Farmiga), who appears to lead a rich psychiatric life. With their matching rumpled haircuts and rock 'n' roll attitudes, Brad and Abby seem out of place in the world of finance — near the beginning of the movie, they attend a recital at Joshua's exclusive school.
"I hate these people," Abby whispers to Brad after a dispiriting round of small talk with some people named Abernathy. "Are we these people?" Encouraging as it is to believe that it's possible to drift ambivalently into their tax bracket, sneering along the way, it's apparent that the point of Brad and Abby's hipsterism is mainly to differentiate them from Joshua, the unfathomable little creep who somehow sprung from their trendy loins.
Herein is the clever, if not exactly fully realized, conceit of "Joshua," which likens parenthood to drawing straws. You're stuck with what you get — but what if what you get scares you? Rockwell and Farmiga are darkly funny as the cool, sexy, not-too-bright parents of a morbid kid who looks like a miniaturized funeral director. Joshua surprises them in doorways and makes their skin crawl with his cloying but strangely emotionless declarations of love. Even his handwriting looks as if it was cribbed from Edward Gorey. When he enters the room, Brad and Abby stop laughing. Nine years appear to have done nothing to diminish their surprise and dismay.
When their daughter Lily is born, Abby categorically refuses to hire help — she even pooh-poohs Brad's mother Hazel's (Celia Weston) offer to stay. The rash (and unbelievable) decision stands out as a plot point intended to allow Abby to have her imminent psychotic break in peace. Ravaged by postpartum depression and sleep deprivation, Abby takes a swan dive off the deep end. Brad tries for a while to keep it together, then reverts to a post-collegiate slacker state that involves wearing pajama bottoms in public.
Joshua, meanwhile, continues to rattle everybody with his strange — or is it annoying but more or less normal? — behavior. He disobeys his dad, hides from his mom, mimics them, spies on them and makes his little sister cry.
Although it's established that this sort of thing has happened before — her last breakdown is conveniently chronicled in a home videotape — the speed and intensity with which she goes crazy come as a shock, as does a last-minute wrench involving a child psychiatrist who suggests things may not have been what they seemed. By the end, you feel as bewildered as Brad and Abby — you're still wondering what this kid is all about. But clever performances and great atmospherics compensate for the gaps in logic.