This movie has been in my head ever since I watched it last night. It isn't a modern horror film with jump scares, it is more slow moving, psychological horror like The Omen, but purely psychological sociopathy rather than demons and devils. I found the boys portrayal of an emotionless empty hearted sociopath learning how to behave and mimic others to fit in, vs his tendency to not fit in at all due to his superior IQ plus lack of emotions, extremely interesting to watch.
The actor and director did an amazing job of having him stay true to character throughout the film. There were these blank looks of observation and you could tell the boy was interested in doing these things out of curiosity fro either how the object of his actions would react, or maybe to see how he himself would react. I think he knew that he was different in that he didn't have any feelings for anyone or anything and so kept testing himself to see how he would react to causing pain and suffering in others.
It seemed like he was basically fine and wasn't doing those sorts of things at all for his entire 9 years until his baby sister was born. Things were good so he had no real need to test anyone or test himself and he was in this prolonged learning/waiting period until something threatened his security and then he very quickly began this almost rapid fire succession of events of hurting animals, the baby, then his mother. Learned very quickly how to manipulate adults the moment he saw his father had figured out he was abnormal, in order to sabotage him so he wouldn't be believed if he were to tell anyone the boy was a psycopath. When he killed his grandmother and we see the father hear the disturbance and then look up, his son was staring right at him. Less interested in watching the result of his action (his grandmothers death) than seeing the reaction of his father.
From the moment the father cried over the dog and then recognised the boys almost mocking seeming mimicking of him as learning how to "act" sad, it was like watching a very fast paced chess game where both sides were trying to knock the other off the board as fast as possible. With a lot of movies of this kind, there is usually a period of disbelief from the parent, even when the child is doing obviously evil things. Or at the very least moments of weakness where they revert to treating the kid like a normal kid and that's when the evil child gains the upper hand and does something awful when they are off guard. This movie is different and it impressed me in that Sam Rockwells character immediately went into full defense of the rest of his family mode and knew he had to send the evil boy Joshua away someplace where he couldn't harm them anymore. His only mistake was letting the boy know he knew what he was. He would have succeeded if he had played it normal and just sent the boy off before he realised what was happening.
Instead we see the boy fake crying to gain the fathers sympathy. We can tell he at this point the father isnt feeling it but is now trying to pretend he is in order to keep the situation that night from escalating and putting himself and the baby in danger, since it was obvious the kid had bruised his own back up in order to set his father up for child abuse. So the only moment of weakness in Rockwells character was when he fell asleep. and that's exactly what the boy was waiting for. From then into the last scene it was a tense standoff where the kid was basically holding his father hostage, wanting him to take him to the park and appear normal and if he didnt do that then he would start screaming abuse again. Meanwhile we see the fathers gears turning behind his eyes as he tries to figure out his best next move and how to get through the day and the time between now and when he could somehow trick the kid into getting sent off to that boarding school. It was just unfortunate the way that park scene unfolded. It was hard to watch.
A couple of things to mull over for those of you who have watched the film and are reading this.....The ending scene with the pianist uncle. The boy is singing a song, and revealing himself for who he is. He is also singing you always knew me the most etc. Knew my every note. We also saw an earlier scene at the recital where the uncle recognised the disharmonious music as musically correct and brilliant but in a dark way. And the uncle kept saying to his sister and Rockwells character things along the lines of how hes had to adapt to all of the mental issues in their family. Had to learn, He knows more than anyone etc. We are all being led to believe thats in response to Vera Farmigas characters post partum psychosis. But what if the unspoken parts of the movie are that their parents were psychotic or sociopathic? And one further what if the brother pianist himself is a high functioning sociopath who learned to mimic normal outgoing behavior and has no need to act out in negative ways because his life is going well for him at the time we see part of it through the eyes of the camera lens? That last song scene where they both look at each other after the boy says he always wanted to be with him could have been the uncle suddenly realising the kid was a sociopath just like himself?
I've also pondered whether Rockwell could have been a sociopath who had learned to hide it behind a wall of friendliness. I say that because he immediately picked up on his sons mental games the moment he showed them by mimicking him crying over the dog. And he showed no sympathy or love from that point on. I think it's possible he could have been someone who had crafted this good life for himself and buried the though of doing anything wrong or bad that would ruin his success. But as soon as he saw his son was a psycho too but now spinning out of control and about to destroy the entire family he recognised how fast and ruthless he was likely to be about it cause he too had that inside him, particularly when he was young?
I may be reading too much into those two characters but I get the feeling the writers and director maybe wanted us to wonder about things like that after watching this film. I thought it was great. One of the best psychological thrillers and evil child movies I've ever seen. Yes it moves slowly, and again it isn't going to make anyone jump. But if it makes you walk away from it questioning everyone you know and wondering if they are really who they appear to be then I think it did it's job. I am thoroughly unnerved by humans right now thanks to this movie.