Joshua (Jacob Kogan), 9 years old, has a lot in common with the creepy, unsmiling, saucer-eyed demon children who have glowered through many a horror film. Disasters tend to happen on his watch; he has a way of suddenly…appearing. The twist in George Ratliff’s Joshua, and it’s a tasty one, is that everything this bad seed does is really his — and the movie’s — way of shining a light upon the sins of his parents, lost in their Upper East Side cocoon. Brad (Sam Rockwell), a backslapping financial hotshot, and Abby (Vera Farmiga), his high-strung wife, have a new infant, and Joshua’s hostility toward the baby is the pretext for a stinging satirical thriller: a tale of family bonds in the age of high technology, status fever, and other spurs to contemporary social detachment.
Kogan, with taunting morose lips that give him the look of a prepubescent Glenn Gould, does more than stare deviously. He thinks on camera — he’s a wicked little actor. When the family dog dies, the conventional suspense issue of whether Joshua poisoned the animal takes a backseat to the squirminess of his response: He mimics his dad’s grief, line by line, as if to reveal how shallow that grief was in the first place. It helps that Rockwell strikes the perfect note of deluded corporate boyishness, and that Farmiga plays Abby’s plunge into postpartum depression with a rage that implies a buried resentment of motherhood. Joshua does grow a bit repetitious (it lacks the cathartic climaxes of a horror film), yet it has cool and savvy fun with your fears. B+