The Parent Trap

No matter how hard Fox Searchlight tries to sell Joshua as a horror picture — Rosemary’s Baby meets The Omen on the way to The Exorcist‘s for a play date — it’s actually a movie in which a firstborn kiddo decides that Mom and Dad should have stopped at one.

More to the point, it’s about how all moms and dads are terrified of their kids: what they are and what they might become. “I don’t know what happened, he was such a nice boy.”

When first we meet 9-year-old Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan), he’s a nerd-in-training who’s just a touch too cold and proper for a boy that age. He’s a superior pianist and a brainiac with skin a pale shade of corpse. He seems more lonely than loathsome, the kind of kid who asks his daddy (a toned-down Sam Rockwell) if he loves him because he’s genuinely afraid that the old man is losing interest.

And then comes the beautiful baby girl, ready to command the attention that Joshua craves. His mother, Abby (Vera Farmiga), can’t put her down. So Joshua is left all alone to dissect his plush toys, mummify his hamster and maybe kill the family dog. Meanwhile, the little girl’s never-ending wail, a piercing, constant cry, wears on Abby until she looks like her eyes are about to pop out of her head.

Ratliff and rookie co-writer David Gilbert are playing with the conventions of what Pauline Kael called the “horror gothic comedy” when referring to Rosemary’s Baby and Psycho. The idea that Sam Rockwell — butched up here as a successful Manhattan moneyman with a racquetball fetish — could be scared of this kid is laughable. It’s a sick joke shared among parents once the kids are down and the drinks are poured. Joshua’s no demon incarnate at all, just a spoiled and petulant child working some Upper East Side hoodoo.

This “horror” movie ushers you out of the theater laughing — and that’s its intent, not the accidental effect of creep-show theatrics pushed too far or taken too seriously (as in the dismal Birth, to which Joshua will be unfairly compared). Turns out, the devil just doesn’t like his parents.

Categories: Movies