Joshua Reviews David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky And Suki Hawley’s Who Took Johnny? [Slamdance Review]


Very few things are as harrowing and terrifying as the thought of losing a loved one, let alone a child. However, what the Gosch family from Iowa have gone through over the last 30-plus years sounds like an absolute nightmare of unimaginable heights.

The basis of a new documentary hitting Park City, Utah for this year’s Slamdance Film Festival entitled Who Took Johnny, the Gosch family suffered one of the most devastating tragedies one family could ever think of having occur. While working his paper route, young paperboy Johnny Gosch went missing, and has been ever since. Ultimately becoming one of this country’s great unsolved mysteries, this new documentary not only shines some much needed light back on this deeply bizarre case but also some intriguing light on to the ways in which this nation itself has changed following this case and a series of hauntingly similar cases that followed in its wake.

Inherently, this film is utterly unforgettable. The story here, of a youngster getting snatched off his paper route in middle America in an era where it was beyond normal for kids to roam the neighborhood seemingly free of any fear or danger, is upsetting and beautifully woven thanks to directors David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley. The film is ostensibly a collection of sourced, archival footage with new interviews with those family, friends and law persons previously involved, and it is in this duality where the film truly shines.

The source footage itself, when paired with some interviews here, hints at a generation that is now dead and gone. A generation of child-like innocence and a freedom that today has been masked by over protective parents rightly believe that when it comes to letting their children out by themselves, the proverbial glass is half empty. Touching on topics like the introduction of missing children on the sides of milk cartons and things of that nature, this film is as much a meditation on a nation that has had its innocence of Americana ripped away due to truly malicious acts as it is a look at this specific court case.

The film’s primary focus is Noreen Gosch, Johnny’s mother, one of the strongest and most strong willed people you’re ever going to meet. We follow her throughout the three-plus decade story that is the disappearance of her son, be it the constant shunning away done by the local government or the various glimmers of hope that are often times worse than getting the worst of all possible news. Her story is one of struggle, strength and perseverance in the face of utter despair, and it is this story that is both utterly devastating and yet is the paint with which this trio of directors paint this story of one aspect of nostalgic Americana slowly being taken away from us all.

Be it all of the bizarre side stories the film follows and one tale of a person who says he helped abduct Johnny that day, Who Took Johnny is both a moving tale of one family destroyed by the loss of a child and yet too strong to ever let this crime go unsolved, and a story of America slowly losing its innocence. Beautifully told by a trio of filmmakers giving as much respect to this story as one could ever possibly hope, this is easily one of the best true crime documentaries to hit screens in quite some time. At all costs, hunt this film down.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.