Vera Farmiga must be one of our great actresses -- for the first two-thirds of Joshua, she not only kept me enraptured by her performance, but also made me think I was watching a good movie. She plays the wife of a go-getter investment banker (Sam Rockwell), and the two of them share a lavish apartment in way-upscale Manhattan -- the kind of place where only the most abnormal problems are able to slip through the net. And so one does, in the form of the title character, the couple's bizarre nine year-old son who vomits at hearing Christmas carols, embalms his stuffed animal -- "this will guarantee him a glorious afterlife," he tells his father -- and sends off such an utterly emotionless, unlovable vibe that his parents huddle close together whenever conversing with him, like two lawyers who need to consult during a tricky business meeting. Anyone reading this script would be dead certain by page ten that they were in for a re-tread of The Omen, but it's thanks to Farmiga that the movie keeps you guessing, for a while.
It's made clear early on that her character suffered some kind of off-the-charts post-partum depression after the birth of Joshua (Jacob Kogan), and as the film opens, she's just given birth to a second child, one that mom and dad silently hope will not grow to have the demeanor of an adolescent Jeffrey Dahmer, like Joshua does. Joshua is never really a mystery to us -- he's consistently weird, but Farmiga frequently interrupts the story of his weirdness with her own story, one that's brimming with possibilities and wild misdirection. Her flat, spongy face is inexplicably swelled up with tears for much of the film, making us ask questions like: Is post-partum depression driving her mad? Did it also drive her mad nine years ago, during the Joshua pregnancy? Is Joshua's odd behavior somehow connected to that? There's one brief scene that nearly stands the movie on its head, when, in a quiet moment, Farmiga's character begins to talk to Joshua in a way that mothers do not talk to their nine year-old sons. It sends chills.