Film Review: Josie

Silly, melodramatic stuff is this Southern-set “thriller,” which refuses to realize its campy potential and instead, regrettably, plays it straight.
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Josie opens with a chaotic scene intended to pique our curiosity: cop cars descending in the night, lights flashing as officers barrel into a house. Flash back several weeks earlier, and we see Hank (Dylan McDermott)—taciturn, gimpy, a real sourpuss—go about his lonesome routine. Hank is an unconventional school security guard of sorts: It appears he is paid to sit outside the high school in his truck all day long, watching over the property to ensure no delinquent students escape. He’s a sad joke to delinquent student Marcus (Jack Kilmer), who revels in pushing Hank’s easily pushed buttons.

The animosity between Hank and Marcus deepens when a sexy new girl arrives. Josie (Sophie Turner, or Sansa from “Game of Thrones”) moves into Hank’s neighborhood, taking the house across from his. Though she’s enrolled in the local high school, where she soon meets Marcus, Josie lives alone. Where her parents are is unclear. They’ll be here in a few weeks, she tells a nosy neighbor. I’m emancipated, she tells a besotted Marcus.

Clearly, something isn’t quite right with Josie, but she knows how to play her men. Soon, Hank is buying her flowers in thanks for helping him open up about his traumatic past, while Marcus is ditching his best friend “Garbage” for her at every turn. Understandable reactions, all. We know something sinister is lying in wait for these members of our love triangle, and as Hank’s jealousy grows, the future looks ever darker.

Josie tries hard to make you think one thing before springing its twist. The climax is too ridiculous, and then, in its garishness, too silly, reminiscent of slasher films. Only, Josie is undeserving of the “slasher” title, since most slasher films try to wring a measure of fun from their titillation. They are short on pretension.

Josie, on the other hand, is the sort of film (very much like the recent The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) that will attempt to use trauma as a means of eliciting high emotion. But because the film isn’t really interested in exploring the effects of trauma, only in manipulating traumatic events for a sensational end, it cannot be considered “dramatic” (in the sense of something that is either effective or affective) or even thrilling: It is simply melodramatic, soap-operatic, too—the word bears repeating—silly. Given the preponderance of quality films and shows nowadays, you cannot get away with the sort of lazy reliance on tropes found in Josie.

Sophie Turner as the titular Lolita-like siren is quite good, however, and though she is made to utter some truly stale remarks, she repeats them as convincingly as they could ever be repeated. And Josie the film should be commended for its portrayal of Josie the character’s sexiness: She is sultry, manipulative, a tease, but we never see more of Sophie Turner than what she bares in a halter-top bathing suit. An element that could have been exploitative is instead nicely restrained.

There is a half-baked feeling to Josie, as if we are watching only the first or second draft of a script come to life. There are aspects of the film that could have been fun, if the filmmakers had chosen to push its Southern Gothic burlesque into campy territory; or that could have (perhaps) been affecting, if the thriller conceit were deemphasized in favor of exploring the pathologies of the characters. As it is, Josie just doesn’t work.

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