UNC student gains attention as film critic: ‘This kid knows what he’s talking about’

By Marine Elia

The audience watches the screen, their eyes fixated on the action and their ears picking up every flesh-tearing and blood-splattering noise. They jolt in their seats during the jump scares and collectively gasp as the character’s true identity is revealed. Sitting in the back row, quietly chuckling to himself, is Josh Martin. He’s already seen Jordan Peele’s “Us” — twice.

Martin runs his own film blog where he provides his insight on films, publishing reviews and sharing them on social media. A regular customer at the Varsity Theatre on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Martin takes advantage of the theater’s proximity to the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill to fully grasp the content before he starts writing.

Martin consecrates his life to movies. As a student film critic, he views about five to six movies a week in addition to those required for his film classes at UNC-CH and subscribes to several streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, Canopy and Shutter, a horror-specific streaming site.

Martin’s induction into the world of cinephiles began with “Toy Story.”

“As a kid, back when movies were on tape, I watched “Toy Story” so much that the tape broke down,” Martin said. “By the time I was done with it, I had watched it well over a hundred times, and now the entire movie is etched into my subconscious.”

Over the years, Martin’s passion for film grew exponentially. Encouraged by his family and friends to start a platform to express his ideas and interpretations of film, Martin created his blog when he was 13 years old. Entitled “The Movie Guru,” his blog was his first attempt at publicizing his opinions to an online audience.

During summer 2011, Martin was able, for the first time, to see PG-13 movies without an accompanying adult. During these formative months, he watched “Super 8” and “Inception.”

“The films I saw during that summer, I quickly developed an obsession with,” Martin said. “After seeing the trailer for “Inception,” I was immediately intrigued and bought the $13 DVD once it came out. It was the first time I was ever blown away by a movie.”

When he entered high school, Martin rebranded his blog to “Martin on Movies,” distinguishing himself from the hundreds of online “Movie Gurus.”

Driven by his love for film, Martin sought out more outlets to share his thoughts. While a student at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, he delivered brief reviews of newly released movies during the morning announcements. Through this experience, Martin exposed himself to his critical peers.

“People thought the school picked someone at random to deliver the movie reviews, and they thought of it as a kind of a joke because they weren’t aware of how invested I was in it,” Martin said. “They thought I was doing it for the attention, even a few teachers.”

Martin remembers one day when his friends told him of a student in one of their classes who was extremely upset over his unfavorable review of “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” after he called it “garbage.”

“I was quite terrified of Josh,” UNC-CH sophomore Ishan Thaker said, recalling his view of Martin in high school. “He had a certain status among us because he was so good at what he did.”

Martin has since moved on from his oral, one-minute movie reviews. He is a contributor for Film Inquiry, an online source for film reviews, and Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that garners the most attention from his peers. Additionally, Martin boasts his status as the youngest member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association.

As a member of the NC Film Critics Association, Martin enjoys the perks of being involved with a larger network of film critics. Through the association, he obtained a press pass to Film Fest 919, a growing film festival held annually in Chapel Hill. During the festival, he had the opportunity to interview the lead actresses of “Roma,” the Academy Award winner for best foreign-language film.

Involving himself in multiple film communities, Martin has established connections with writers from various backgrounds.

Hunter Heilman contributes to the online film review outlet Elements of Madness. Heilman first met Martin through a serendipitous encounter on Twitter, where Martin maintains a steady stream of movie-related tweets. After exchanging a few messages over the social media platform, Heilman came across Martin’s review of “Nocturnal Animals,” a film Martin had exclusive access to when he attended the Toronto International Film Festival.

“When I read that review, I was like, ‘OK, this kid knows what he’s talking about,’” Heilman said. “His review made me interested in seeing the movie. I hadn’t even seen a trailer or movie poster at that point because it hadn’t been released yet to the public — I don’t feel that often with reviews in general.”

Heilman describes Martin’s work as authentic with a critical, objective eye that seeks to review all movies with equal treatment and equal amounts of passion.

“He’s so articulate for someone of his age. I was honestly kind of jealous,” Heilman said. “I wish I had it together at my age like he did.”

Movies are the vessel Martin uses to connect and relate to others. He says movies themselves are a reflection of present themes and societal issues.

Johnny Sobczak is a close friend of Martin and is enrolled in a horror film course with Martin this semester. The two met on Twitter, both active participants within the social media’s film community.

For the class’ midterm paper, the students were instructed to write about a horror movie of their choice. Sobczak was deeply impressed when Martin studied “Alien” and dissected it to form an analysis of capitalism.

“When most people think of “Alien,” they just think it’s a monster movie. They don’t relate it to capitalism and corporate greed,” Sobczak said.

Martin, like many college students, uses stickers on his laptop to reveal his interests. Covered in a sticker mosaic of cinematographic references, his laptop serves as a conversation starter with other film lovers. From classics like “Casablanca” to “Inception” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” in addition to an obligatory Quinten Tarantino sticker, his laptop has it all.

Much like each of his favorite films, Martin’s individuality shines through his movie reviews.

Douglas Davidson is an online film writer and a professor of public speaking at Central Piedmont Community College. Davidson knows Martin through Twitter, and despite never having met Martin in person, he said he understands how his personality interacts with his writing.

“His reviews sound like Josh,” Davidson said. “Even his tweets are authentic. He never looks to provoke a reaction out of someone with an outlandish hot take.”

Martin plans on attending graduate school and sees himself possibly pursuing a career in academia if he decides to not write full time.

“The industry is tough right now,” Martin said. “What keeps me motivated is that there’s always something new to see, and I have that to look forward to.”

Edited by Joseph Held.