Shudder’s What Josiah Saw is a deeply disturbing and novelistic tale of generational trauma and the horrors it holds.
One common misconception of trauma is that it must hit us immediately. For some, a traumatic event will leave permanent scars that will appear quickly. However, others have their scars appear weeks or even years after whatever has happened to them in their lives. The pain and trauma can shoot out across various people within one family and almost become a member of its own as it takes on a grotesque and human form. In Vincent Grashaw’s What Josiah Saw, we see a story of a family that’s distant yet held together by horrifying trauma that takes over their lives and brings them to a shocking final destination.
The film follows the Graham family, who have all splintered off into paths of their own. Eli (Nick Stahl) is constantly in trouble with the law and finds himself in a troubled state as he comes to terms with his own internalized trauma and place in the world. Mary (Kelli Garner) is a young woman who’s looking to adopt with her husband, Ross (Tony Hale) while suffering from intense nightmares and some form of psychosis that places a strain on her marriage. While Eli and Mary have gone their own way, Thomas Graham (Scott Haze) is still stuck at home with his abusive father, Josiah (Robert Patrick) who drinks himself to death. One night, Josiah has a life changing experience in his own bed that causes him and Thomas to go down a dark path in the name of God. After two decades away from each other, the Graham family reunites at their family home and, from there, their past sins begin to show themselves looking to be atoned for.
From the outset, What Josiah Saw is a deeply oppressive film. Composer Robert Pycior scores every moment with strings that feel almost like a whip across one’s back as it forces its evil and unsettling presence to take over a scene. Although the film isn’t a horror the same way a film like Insidious may be in regards to the jump scare department, the horror that’s within What Josiah Saw is one that’s deeply real and all the more devastating as it begins to come together.
Director Vincent Grashaw and writer Robert Alan Dilts seem to come to What Josiah Saw with a similar frame of mind which is to keep you in an uncomfortable amount of mystery throughout its runtime. From the start, the film feels as though it’s emptying out a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces sprawled across the floor. As it slowly begins to place itself together, the film goes down certain paths that it admittedly gets lost in at times but manages to come together as it reaches its brutal finale.
In a sense, What Josiah Saw feels almost like the anthesis of what director Mike Flanigan has explored in his television series such as The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. Both explore the concept of trauma and the generational and decades-long aftershocks that can ensue from it with What Josiah Saw, this is explored in the most nihilistic and disconcerting way as it places itself in these ghostly environments where any semblance of life feels inauthentic and unsettling. As we explore the film’s storyline through the eyes of three different characters, we see a shared vision of trauma that’s both different yet all the same in the darkness it creates.
What Josiah Saw is a deeply disturbing blend of southern horror told through the lens of a troubled author with horrifying stories to spare. It wastes no time to create a bleak and nilhistic vision that will most definitely turn some people away from exploring all of its finer parts. Although it might struggle at times to stay completely focused within its slow pace, the ways it ties everything together towards the finish line makes the whole journey all the more enticing.
What Josiah Saw is available on Shudder U.S., Shudder CA, Shudder UK, and Shudder ANZ.