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Sundance: “Joshua.”

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"Nobody will ever love you."
Brad Cairn (Sam Rockwell) works in finance. Abby Cairn (Vera Farmiga) has just given birth to their second child. They live in a gorgeous renovated prewar apartment near Central Park with all the trappings of the urban near-upper class. Their newborn daughter, Lily, has already been outfitted with a high-end crib, stroller and baby monitors. Their son, the somber Joshua (Jacob Kogan), is a piano prodigy who attends the kind of school in which the boys are outfitted in blazers. He’s also, as envisioned by filmmaker George Ratliff, whose last film was the excellent documentary "Hell House," an amalgamation of Damian from "The Omen," Rhoda Penmark from "The Bad Seed" and Cameron Bright‘s character in "Birth" — an emotionally remote, terrifying mastermind in a boy’s buttoned-down shirt.

The horror of "Joshua" is gradual and pervasive — the film starts off on the outskirts of a creaky afterschool special set-up about an older child feeling jealous of the attention being paid to a infant, but develops into something more unsettling. The idea that one’s child could prove inherently alien and threatening is not, as the film itself acknowledges (note Farmiga’s chic "Rosemary’s Baby" crop of hair), a new one to the screen. "Joshua" puts a vicious twist on the concept by aiming at the aspirations of upwardly mobile couples to do everything right and their own way. The Cairns are both aware of and aloof from their own affluence — "Are we these people?" Abby mutters in abhorrence after an inane exchange with various parents of Joshua’s classmates. When things start going wrong, they’re small-scale disasters out of a liberal parent’s nightmares. The baby won’t stop crying, but Abby doesn’t want to hire a nanny, and eventually the stress plunges her into postpartum depression — she’s put on anti-depressants and can no longer breastfeed. The penthouse apartment upstairs is being renovated and noise is unceasing. And strange little Joshua has a habit of questioning, with heartbreaking earnestness, his parent’s love for him. Relatively paltry stuff, all of it, but the combined weight is enough to have Abby on the verge of a breakdown and Brad ready to quit his high-flying job in order to shore things up at home, while also beginning to suspect that their problems have one improbable source: their son.

Ratliff manages to coax tension out of mundane domestic settings; he also finds room for a scattering of dark humor — Joshua’s most ingenious act of aggression is, following a trip to church with his grandmother, to declare to his areligious parents his eagerness to be born again. Joshua is a magnificent embodiment of an unspoken parental fear that perhaps your children don’t care about your good intentions, that perhaps they don’t even want the life you’re trying ever so carefully to give them. It’s a fear that, given the reflexive condescension with which Abby and Brad treat Brad’s religious, suburban parents, is not so unreasonable.

"Joshua" paints itself into a corner at the end, but that final sense of deflation fits in with the film’s own tendency to cut dread with the everyday. It’s still an impressively subversive tweaking of the horror genre, and a memorable one.

Fox Searchlight acquired "Joshua" at the festival and will presumably release the film sometime this year.

+ "Joshua" (Sundance)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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