Family is a sturdy anchor that holds a person in high tides of agony and trauma. But what if that loving family becomes synonymous with pandemonium, forcing a person to flee and live while still carrying the traumatic scar? A Shudder Original “What Josiah Saw” is a saga of a distressed Graham family who hid their sinister secrets inside the confinements of their no-way-out farmhouse and suffered terrible repercussions upon their reunion after two decades. Directed by Vincent Grashaw, it is a sickening and convoluted tale of Josiah Graham, a violent, aggressive, and tyrannical father, and his three adult children, Eli, Mary, and Tommy, that significantly blends conventional horror, noir, and fantasy. With three discrete segments, one for each of the Graham children, the movie is more akin to an anthology. Although, at first, they appear haphazard and have no connection to them at all, the ending will leave you in awe. So, without wasting too much time, let’s get started.
Chapter 1: The Ghost Of Willow Road: Why Is Josiah’s Farmhouse Haunted? What Happened to His Wife, Miriam?
The story unfolds with Josiah Graham (Robert Patrick) and his mentally-unstable son, Thomas, aka Tommy (Scott Haze), in their farmhouse on the outskirts of an old town in Texas. According to local lore, they live in a haunted house because Miriam, a pious lady and Tommy’s beloved mother, hanged herself from the willow tree near their house. Undoubtedly, this incident made Tommy, the closest one to her, unable to recuperate. Josiah is an alcoholic and atheist who believes to see a green-suited, little leprechaun through his window but not God. Tommy is constantly seen doing his father’s bidding, yet he receives nothing but bad treatment in exchange. Needless to say, this father-son interaction is nothing but detrimental. We witness the filthy father trying to touch his son in the wrong way, forcing him to masturbate in front of him and even proving him guilty of his sin. This scene is upsetting because of its stomach-turning demonstration of Tommy, who must have been tortured both physically and emotionally by his father since childhood. Tommy is in contact with his sister Mary, but not with his brother Eli. Josiah describes his elder son as a drunkard, gambler, and womanizer. However, despite his father’s immense resistance, Tommy is seen following a lady named Mrs. Tate and her son into a shop. He claimed her to be his friend, but Josiah seriously warns him not to stalk her or go near the child. Who is that lady Tommy is so obsessed with? We will know soon.
The game has shifted overnight. One night, Josiah encounters something horrifying that causes him to reconsider his view of the Almighty. He claims that his wife Miriam came to see him and told him that she was being punished by burning in the hellish blazes for her family’s worst sins. She advised him to make amends for their past evils because this was the only way the family might find redemption. She pledges to choose the right step in an effort to save her tormented soul, which is currently suffering in an agonizing hell. Tommy, who is overly sentimental toward his mother, accepts his father’s advice and promises to carry out his instructions to rectify every wrong in an effort to relieve his mother’s spirit from hellish misery. He is pictured working hard to refurbish his house, clean up the debris, and dig the ground. We now wonder, are these tasks relevant to bogeying the sins? Answers are on the way.
In the meantime, an oil corporation arrives in the town intending to expand its business by acquiring the town’s peripheral areas. They learn of Graham’s tragic backstory and the ominous rumors surrounding their farmhouse. However, the business-people don’t bother about the ghost, so they send letters along with a generous cash offer. What’s next? Will Josiah leave their house? Will all the hidden secrets come out and be rectified? Let’s wait a bit more.
Chapter 2: Eli And The Gypsies: What Are The Secrets Eli Carries With Him?
The eldest son of Josiah, Eli (Nick Stahl), is the focus of the second section. He and Mary are twins, as far as we know. Eli leads a reckless lifestyle, whoring constantly, taking drugs and engaging in gambling. He resides in a recreational van on the outskirts. His prior felony charge of raping a juvenile has him on a police monitor. Even though Eli persuaded the police that he was unaware that the girl was a minor, they had strong suspicions about him in connection with the recent disappearance of another young girl. Boone, the head thug, gave Eli the responsibility of robbing the gold from gypsies because Eli was unable to pay his gambling debt. Eli is assured that if he succeeds, his criminal record will be wiped. Eli visits the gypsies and encounters Mama Luna, a destiny teller, who accuses him of being responsible for his mother’s demise. She also criticizes Eli for harboring burdensome and terrible secrets. Mama Luna also claims that Eli will die sooner than others. Once the gypsies discover his motive of arrival, they kill his two companions and sedate Eli.
Eli unexpectedly spots the missing child with them and learns she is being held captive by them for a childless mother. Eli thrashes the gypsies and returns with the girl and the gold. Eli gives the child back to the sheriff and flees for a new beginning. He finds some letters from the same oil business asking for their farmhouse when he gets back to his van.
Chapter 3: Mary May I: Will Mary Be Able To Become A Mother?
The film’s conclusive part centers on Mary May (Kelli Garner), Josiah’s photographer daughter. She and Ross are happily married, and she is ready to start a family by adopting a little one. But how joyful is their partnership? We learn that she had a tubectomy, a sterile surgery performed when she was a teenager, but she has since changed her mind and wants to become a mother now. Adding to that, she is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, which is leading her to contemplate suicide and making her husband terrified and embarrassed. She reacts to people in a rage and overreacts unreasonably. Ross, her husband, has always tried to make up with his insane wife, and he sincerely loves her despite accusing her of cheating in the past. Mary has an obsession with sharp items, and she has gruesome nightmares where she stabs herself. For her extremely susceptible situations, she is taking ketamine medications. She breaks down into tears as she tells the adoption psychologist that despite her lifelong trauma, she has so much love to give to someone, and she really longs for it.
Eli, her twin brother, visits her one day and informs her about the oil company’s letters. She is urged by him to speak with their younger brother, Tommy, and get his consent. We have already assumed that Mary’s traumas are related to this property and that she believes nothing positive can occur there. Eli prompts her to think of the “Mary May I” game they used to play as adolescents, where she was obligated to comply with all demands. He also implores Mary to persuade her brother to speak to him since it is already known that Tommy and Eli do not speak to one another. Eli genuinely needs the money the corporation is supplying for his new life. Even if Eli only wants her to speak with Tommy, Mary wants to return there for the final time. When Mary asks about Josiah, Eli tells her that he would take care of their father. They make the decision to visit their farmhouse one last time, meet their little brother, and obtain his signature.
‘What Josiah Saw’ Ending, Explained: What Sins Were The Graham Family Hiding for Decades? How Were They Paid?
Following their meeting at a roadside motel, the two twin siblings set out on their trip to their despised home. When they finally get to meet their younger brother, they’re shocked to learn that Tommy already knew they were coming. However, we begin to have our doubts when we notice that nobody was asking about or meeting Josiah and acting as though Tommy was the only person living on the entire farm. But Eli and Mary keep their composure and discuss digging up something buried on their property, despite the obvious pain and worry on both of their faces. All of a sudden, we find Josiah persuading Tommy that his siblings are the real villains. Why does Josiah speak in such a way? What violation did they commit? Eli is shocked to not find his hidden mysteries at this point. Who or what did he bury? Is Mary aware of it?
Mary and Tommy are chatting in the house when Ross calls to tell her that the adoption agency has granted their request, allowing Mary to become a mother at last. When we notice that Tommy is seated with Josiah, Mary and Eli join him at the table. Josiah, though, is once more completely invisible to the two. Josiah, only visible to Tommy, prompts him to speak when they ask if he has anything to say. The silence is finally broken by Tommy. According to him, their mother is burning in hell. He also says that unless they live a pure and righteous life and atone for every transgression they commit, their mother will be in pain. Eli disputes him over the restraining orders issued by Catherine, our enigmatic Mrs. Tate, who was ultimately Tommy’s first wife but abandoned him along with their child and then remarried. But Tommy, who is mentally disabled, never stops looking at the child whom he originally fathered and believes that both the mother and the son are his buddies. Now we know why Tommy is so fixated on them. Due to his malformed brain, he does not believe any of the accusations are true. Elli is doubtful that Tommy might return to that evil farm merely to stalk his ex-wife and her boy, but Tommy declines. He claims to be returning for two of them. He claimed that Miriam, their mother, committed suicide because she knew about their incestuous relationship and the fact that they had a baby who they killed.
When they learn of their brother’s belief, the duo drops everything and informs Tommy that he does not know anything. They tell him that the child was conceived by their violent father, Josiah. Josiah is reportedly incensed at this claim, but neither Eli nor Mary were able to see him. Eli goes on to say that when Tommy was just four years old, the violent and intoxicated Josiah burned off part of his left ear with a heated iron. Because he believed that no lesson could be learned without blood, he strapped Eli until he started bleeding profusely. He had forced sex with his daughter and made Mary pregnant. Tommy is persuaded by Eli that their father was the only sinner in the house. Not for her children, but for their father, their mother hanged herself. He was even murdered by his three children 23 years ago, and his body was interred close to the property. When Tommy reveals that he learned all of this from their father and that he is even talking with him right now, Eli and Mary are dumbfounded. The confused siblings are unable to restrain their insane brother. Tommy says that they committed sins together even while traveling to this house and while staying at the motel, but Eli refutes his pointless assertions. He said that if Josiah is speaking to Tommy, either he needs mental assistance or that Josiah is taking revenge. Tommy informs them that he discovered the infant they murdered and buried. They discover the exhumed skeletons of an adult and a young child in a box. It seems evident that they indeed interred a baby, and Eli’s earlier efforts to locate these skeletons were successful. Eli was suddenly struck by Tommy with an axe during this turmoil, and he died as predicted by Mama Luna. Mary tries to flee, but her little brother also stabs her multiple times, just as she had seen in her nightmares. The two siblings actually did make love at that motel, and the movie ends with a fire in a willow tree with the words “Sins Paid In Full” scrawled on it.
The filmmaker leaves his audience to interpret the sins, sinners, and judgments. Eli and Mary are seen bearing the burden of their early tragedy. Miriam’s dedication to her God is evident in the way she chose biblical names for her children. On the other hand, Josiah, her husband, was evil. While it is not quite clear whether Josiah is only Tommy’s imagination or not. But the way Eli killed the Gypsy, Mary’s nightmares, and the adult skeleton in the box support the idea that the terrible father was slain by the children, and not alive. Tommy most likely witnessed his father’s murder and became horribly insane because he was already dealing with the death of his mother. Who knows if Tommy was actually being driven by Josiah’s ghost or if it was Tommy who invented a new universe with only his briefs? Additionally, we witness the horrible scene of pervert Josiah abusing his son; therefore, we can infer that it had also occurred with his other children in the past. His father may actually had physically abused Mary. Although we have evidence that Eli and Mary engaged in incest, it is not absolutely certain that the child is Eli’s; it may be Josiah’s. Mary, who had been severely abused, had her fallopian tubes sewed shut so she would never be able to conceive. This occurs when someone is sexually assaulted or coerced. However, based on the facts we have, the siblings sinned consensually in the motel. And Eli also brought up the game “Mary May I.” That suggests that during their adolescence, he probably took advantage of his sister via the guise of a game. Therefore, the director wants us to introspect what could be what. As far as we remember, Mary’s spouse, Ross, previously accused her of being unfaithful. We’ll never know if she kept up their covert relationship with her brother or if it was someone else.
However, we notice that each sinning child is making amends in their own way. Eli, a sex addicted rape offender, saves a girl from the gypsies without exploiting her. Mary wants to have a child and shower her child with love, as her mother did for her, despite her mental instability. The two of them appear to be sufficiently remorseful for their actions, and they may feel accountable for their mother’s passing too. So, they chose the right way and let the past go. Unfortunately, Tommy, a retard, was unable to do so. He is not even to blame for his insane behavior. Funnily enough, we never know “What Josiah Saw” exactly. The filmmaker chooses not to show it. It might be God, or an angel from his wife, his wife herself, or something else. But was Josiah even alive to see such things? Or maybe he told his crazy son Tommy all these things before he was killed by Eli. So, he finally seeks revenge. So, it is all up to us, the audience, to unravel the puzzles in our heads by assigning our own explanations to the probable events, people, and their psyches.
According to the Christian doctrine, when Jesus died on the cross, he atoned fully for our sins. Though it is difficult to say how this completely correlates to the film, it’s reasonable to presume that Mary and Eli’s sins were fully made amends for when they accepted the truth and perished at Tommy’s hands. The discovery of Miriam’s children’s offenses can also be taken as proof that her suicide was another sin that was fully compensated for. This would imply that all the family members were innocent of sinister deeds. Josiah was a greater sinner. His wife Miriam sinned by killing herself. We all know the sins of the incest twins. And last but not the least, their crazy brother again sinned by killing his siblings. So, all their sinned souls have now been redeemed and freed from the flames of hell.
Final Words: With Long-Term Effects in Mind, a Discomforting but Worthy Watch
The dreadful journal “What Josiah Saw” describes how domestic trauma, unspoken secrets, and suppressed anguish can follow you around and make your life fully closed off. It’s a sinister painting depicting religious laceration, heaven and hell, mercy, punishment, and vile retaliation. The filmmaker uses horror and noir paintbrushes to paint his entire scene blurrily, adding many hues of the Holocaust, Jew Golds, Psychosis, Ghosts, Motherhood, Patience, Love, and Hatred. Despite a few unsettling visual effects, the top-notch narrative, stunning cinematography, eerie background music, and fantastic acting make this film not only far improvised from the conventional idea of horror and thriller but a great watch.
“What Josiah Saw” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Vincent Grashaw.