When parents Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga have their second child, you may wonder why it takes them so long to notice that their first-born, Joshua (Jacob Kogan), is so strange and unnerving, like an alien trying to imitate humanity. But at least this feels more like nagging dread than head-slapping ignorance; George Ratliff’s thriller collects a variety of familial-horror tropes (though it spares us incest and/or the suburbs) and arranges them with care, hiding fear and unease in a small but posh Manhattan apartment.
Rockwell usually has to steal his scenes; here he appears bemused to have them handed to him, which jives with his impression of alikable but somewhat doofy, blasé husband and father forced to confront a variety of stresses. Poor Vera Farmiga, though, who’s already suffered her share of cinematic motherly woes (Down to the Bone, Running Scared), has to play an overextended post-partum riff on Rosemary’s Baby.
Joshua’s methodical approach may cause initial fidgets during those poor-man’s-Polanski bits. For awhile, the running time does stretch the taut line of suspense almost to the point of invisibility, but it eventually snaps back into view. The experience of watching the film is less visceral and more reflective than most horrors; its chief point of interest is not wondering when or who little Joshua will kill, but the way Ratliff and co-writer David Gilbert creep around typical evil-kid clichés. Somehow, Joshua playing experimental piano music or showing an interest in learning, unsettles you more than dead pets or cold eyes. Every scene may not stick, but many images linger afterward — you know, sort of like a nightmare.