Ward Roberts, Aaron Gaffey, Christy Jackson, Alexa Havins, Jeremiah Jordan
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Having the Fangoria name attached to a film typically means a couple things- 1) The film will be widely seen bye gorehounds and devotees of hardcore horror cinema and 2) The film will be an excessively gory, "B" movie quality horror flick.
While "Joshua," a $200,000 low-budget horror flick written and directed by Travis Betz, did get the wide DVD distribution that goes along with the Fangoria label the film is a surprisingly non-gratuitous, less gory horror film that emphasizes the psychological side of horror in much the same way Rob Zombie recently re-interpreted "Halloween."
Viewing "Joshua" was an unusual experience, to say the least. The film stars Ward Roberts as Kelby, a young man whose attempts to leave his sordid Indiana childhood behind him comes back to haunt him when he returns home for the funeral of his imprisoned father.
I had the pleasure of meeting Roberts during the 2006 Heartland Film Festival during the screening of "Little Big Top," a far more family friendly and positive film he directed starring none other than horror legend Sid Haig. Becoming introduced to Roberts as a delightfully personable and warm person in such a positive setting as the Heartland Film Festival made viewing his particularly disturbing performance in "Joshua" all the more disturbing.
The film has received quite a bit positive press from horror film sites and critics, most of whom note its unusually well developed script, impressively effective for a low-budget flick production design and the surprisingly strong performances from the cast.
While "Joshua" is an undeniably above low-budget horror film, one can't help but wonder if the profuse praise it has received from multiple horror sites isn't as much a product of the overall sad state of indie horror as it is a true testament of the extraordinary quality of the film.
The film does, indeed, have much more going for it than the vast majority of the low-budget, indie horror films released in recent years and Betz truly displays a unique gift for developing multi-faceted characters that seem to simultaneously evoke our sympathies and our repulsion.
This gift comes most vividly alive in the performance of Roberts, who wonderfully displays Kelby's inner conflicts, insane tendencies and woundedness. Much like happened in Rob Zombie's recent "Halloween" with Michael Myers, I found myself incredibly drawn to Kelby even as his mind so obviously slipped into darker and darker places.
The same was true for Aaron Gaffey as James, a young man who at first glance seems to be the true psycho of the bunch, but whom time reveals may have actually been much more student than teacher. Gaffey's performance brings to mind Christian Bale's underrated portrayal of Bret Easton Ellis's Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho," in the way he creates with a complete sense of normalcy a man who seems to have gone completely mad from his childhood experiences.
Only Jeremiah Jordan as the third friend, who seems to have become the normal one of the bunch by becoming a cop, feels a tad out of place with a performance that occasionally crosses the line into histrionics and sharply contrasts with the more subdued performances of Gaffey and Roberts. Christy Jackson makes a solid feature film debut as Kelby's fiancee Amelia, while Alexa Havins (from the soap "Young and the Restless") spices up a supporting turn as Kelby's very unusual sister.
While Betz does a stellar job developing characters that constantly intrigue, "Joshua" starts to falter at times due to disturbingly slow pacing, while the often beautifully shot film occasionally lingers too long on shots that sometimes seem designed more for photographic effect than film continuity.
The gore and special effects in "Joshua" do cross that classic Fangoria line that is half campy, half gory. It must also be noted that "Joshua" is, quite frequently, a disturbing film in that it examines the often disturbing behaviors of troubled youth and how, in turn, that cycle continues throughout our lives. While many writers/directors might have offered a bit of a breather or the all too familiar happy ending, Betz disturbingly and wisely keeps "Joshua" quite authentic up to and including the very end.
It is the stark reality, well-developed characters and devotion to plot that truly turns "Joshua" into a horror film that disturbs far beyond its gore.
Not to be confused with the more suspenseful yet less horrifying 2007 "Joshua" starring Sam Rockwell, this low-budget horror gem is a promising flick from relative newcomers Travis Betz, Ward Roberts and the ensemble cast and crew of one of the finest films to come out of the Fangoria line of low-budget horror films.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic