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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir George Ratliff|
scr David Gilbert, George Ratliff
with Sam Rockwell, Jacob Kogan, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael McKean, Nancy Giles, Linda Larkin, Alex Draper, Tom Bloom, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Jodie Markell
release US 6.Jul.07, UK Aug.07 eiff
07/US Fox 1h45
Creep-out: Roberts and Kogan
The creepy child genre hasn't had a movie this much fun in a long time. Filmmaker Ratliff gleefully crafts this slow-burning thriller, drawing out strong performances before the cliches take over.
Growing up in a hectic Manhattan household, 9-year-old piano prodigy Joshua (Kogan) has to almost raise himself. His loving dad Brad (Rockwell) juggles everything to make sure he's there for Joshua, because mom Abby (Farmiga) is busy with new baby Lily. But Joshua feels like an alien in his family, especially when he learns that his crying as an infant nearly drove his mother insane. Then the normally happy Lily starts crying rather a lot and Mommy starts to lose her mind again. And that's just the beginning.
The set-up is thoroughly involving, as Ratliff gradually builds the story with intriguing themes like the internal struggles of an awkward child ("Daddy, do you ever feel weird about me, your weird son?"), the pressures to balance work and family, and the slippery slope of mental illness. Telling the story from Joshua's perspective is involving and insidiously realistic, so it feels rather ludicrous when he suddenly starts dressing like Damien and glaring ominously at his parents.
Along the way, though, Rockwell and Farmiga both deliver intensely strong performances as real people watching their lives disintegrate before their eyes, unable to believe the evidence in front of them. And there are strong supporting roles for Weston, as the deeply religious grandmother, and McKean, as Brad's strained boss. But where are Brad and Abby's friends? The people they hang out with seem to be mere acquaintances. And they really need a voice of reason right now.
This is just one problem in the script. There are also some scenes that get far too silly for their own good, such as Abby's red boot freak-out and a momentous visit to the mummy exhibit at the museum. Most of the film's tragic moments actually make us laugh (thud!), because by then Joshua has turned into a mini-Hannibal Lecter. Kogan even chomps on the scenery just like Anthony Hopkins. It's still thoroughly unsettling, but it could have been a classic.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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