After a well-received festival run, Vincent Grashaw’s What Josiah Saw (2022) arrives on Shudder today. Written by Robert Dilts, What Josiah Saw is a blend of Southern Gothic, psychological thriller, and a chilling ghost story.
The film centers on the Graham family, unraveling their bloody history over three intertwined chapters. Thomas (Scott Haze) and his father Josiah (Robert Patrick) live an isolated life on the rundown family homestead. Eldest brother Eli (Nick Stahl) boozes and blows his way through a foundationless life. Middle sister Mary (Kelli Garner) works at her marriage but remains dragged down by her past. to start a new family but is dragged down by her shattered past. The scattered family pulls back together after each receives an offer letter from an oil company. Each sees a different path forward in the exorbitant price tag the company offers. Yet, in order to claim it, they have to dig up their past.
Nick Stahl stopped by to talk about his work as Eli in What Josiah Saw. He delivers a searing performance of a nearly broken man, continuing a career built on memorable roles in genre films. The following is a conversation with him, edited lightly for length and clarity.
Devin: Starting at the top, how did you join the cast of What Josiah Saw?
Nick: Vincent sent me the script, I read it, and I was really happy with the story. I loved how Robert wrote it, so I told Vincent that and he offered me the role. It was a really easy decision to say yes. Loved Eli’s story and felt like a great role.
Devin: You have to love when it all goes that smooth.
Nick: Oh yeah, it’s a nice change of pace.
Devin: Moving onto the performance, shame and trauma define Eli as a character. How do you get into the mindset to channel all that into a performance?
Nick: I mean, I think generally you just kind of apply your own trauma as best you can. I mean, nothing in my life is as extreme as Eli’s, but trauma and pain are things you can relate to. So, you know, it was fairly easy for me to put myself in Eli’s mindset. Even if my own personal struggles were not identical, I just related to the guy right away.
Devin: Beyond the internal work, you deliver quite a physical performance as Eli. It’s a slow burn from his anxious and withdrawn opening stature to a more outward and violent one as What Josiah Saw unfurls. Is that something you thought through, or just a part of the work that came naturally?
Nick: I don’t know if I was intentionally doing it. I just saw the guy as having his drug and alcohol issues, which is of course really clear when you watch the movie. Both of those parts definitely affect your physicality. Everything from posture, to the way you walk, and how anxiety works in your body. I focused on that a bit.
It’s interesting because I feel like as his story goes on and the stakes raise more and more, I kind of saw him coming alive. Stepping up to the challenge in his sort of reluctant way. In the beginning, he’s just a defeated, defeated guy. To get that all across I think I just really studied the material and the physicality unfolded organically on set.
Devin: As you talk about that coming alive, it strikes me that a big part of that is Eli’s twisted reunion with his siblings. You, Kelli, and Scott have limited screen time together, but still, pack a hefty emotional gut-check. How did the three of you build out that shared history?
Nick: I’ve been saying this all over the place: it’s the writing. The script really did a lot of the lifting for us. The roles were very clear. They were so well written, and we showed up and we spent some time in Oklahoma with each other leading up to the film. I had actually known Kelly from before. I did a film with her 20 years ago. Oddly enough, that kind of helped. I felt like I had familiarity with her as my sister.
Devin: Turning to a specific scene, the dinner table moment with the three of you near the end is this pivotal piece of the story. It also requires you to deliver a hefty monologue with a lot of exposition, a plot twist, and intense grief. How do you prepare to face something like that down and get it ready to go?
Nick: It was a tricky scene, man, that whole sequence, especially because of the exposition. It was definitely a challenge. I didn’t want to make too much of a meal of the dialogue. I mean, these are just facts of their lives, things that happened to these three siblings when they were kids. I’m just kind of recounting, so I wanted to get out of the way and let the writing speak for itself. Then it just kind of clicked into place and worked as a way to understand what these characters have been going through the whole time.
Devin: From a career perspective, What Josiah Saw fits in with this stretch of horror projects you’ve been working on across film and TV. Is there something that draws you to horror, or is it less about genre and more about specific stories?
Nick: I think there is just a lot of horror right now. Lots of horror films are being made. So, I don’t think it’s as much me being drawn to the genre as much as horror scripts being what folks are sending around. In terms of this movie, I would say the main thing that attracted me to it is that it crosses genres. It’s got thriller elements. Some Southern Gothic elements. Plenty of family drama, and even some really dark comedy. Through it all though, it’s a story grounded in family, and I love that.
WHAT JOSIAH SAW is streaming exclusively on Shudder.
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