What Josiah Saw arrives on Shudder on August 4th.
What secrets lurk behind the doors of each family home? And how many lies are buried deep in the home’s soil, contaminating each new generation? These questions have long been the foundation of the Southern Gothic drama, as family, history, community and horror dovetailed to create some of the finest movies of the past century. Southern gothic was born from the literature of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers. Here each author would explore the macabre by wrapping their stories of family, community and religion in poverty, manipulation, secrets and lies.
From Cape Fear to Deliverance, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Devil All the Time, the delicate crossover between drama and horror in the Southern Gothic genre has offered us characters that burn with ferocious intensity and stories that explore some of the darkest reaches of humanity, human psychology and behaviour.
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However, not all Southern Gothic movies are created equal, and some opt for a far more standard horror fair, forgoing the drama in favour of jump scares. These Southern Gothic horrors, for example, Wrong Turn (2021), forget that real terror lies in the drama, the unspoken intolerance, religious fervour and the dark secrets that permeate every interaction. In his third feature, What Josiah Saw, director Vincent Grashaw clearly understands the fundamental building blocks of the finest Southern Gothic horrors.
Thomas (Scott Haze) lives alone with his controlling and volatile father, Josiah (Robert Patrick), in a rundown farmhouse that died the day Thomas found his mother hanging from a tree. Her loss surrounds the toxic daily life of alcohol, manipulation and religion as an oil company attempts to buy the land. After a vision in his sleep, Josiah proclaims to Thomas that his siblings must return to the farm at the haunting request of their dead mother. However, Eli (Nick Stahl) and his sister Mary (Kelli Garner) ran from the farm long ago. But is an oil company’s interest in the farm and its contaminated land enough to draw them back home?
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For some, What Josiah Saw may feel disconnected as it jumps into crime drama following the unnerving tension of the first act. However, this jump in narrative direction is essential in building the genuinely terrifying conclusion What Josiah Saw offers. Here Grashaw slowly builds tension through sound, cinematography and a series of performances that feel off-kilter from the opening scenes. This creates unsettling yet quiet horror that plays to the strengths of the Southern Gothic genre, twisting and turning as it explores the horror held in the soil of a family home. The result is an atmospheric, brutal story of a deep, dark family secret that demands your full attention. To say more would ruin the journey, so dim the lights, hide the remote and avoid the pause button as Grashaw’s Southern Gothic horror sweeps you away into a genuinely dark and unsettling place.
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Grashaw slowly builds tension through sound, cinematography and a series of performances that feel off-kilter from the opening scenes. This creates unsettling yet quiet horror that plays to the strengths of the Southern Gothic genre.