Saturday, March 31, 2018

Who's Watching Oliver?

Who’s Watching Oliver?

 A Film Review.

Tick tock goes the clock. The picture begins. We are in a room that looks like its straight from 1950s Middle America but is actually modern day Bangkok. Oliver counts out his pills from an old antique hardwood medicine box. He’s dressed in 1950s Beat wardrobe, and he’s clearly deeply disturbed. His condition, although never specified, is obviously somewhere within the autism spectrum. But that’s not all about Oliver that’s beat. Mama’s been on his case from an early age. She makes him kill. She enjoys it. And Mama does all this via Skype. With a cocktail in her hand and with the vocabulary of a Kilkenny fishwife, Mama, played wonderfully by Margaret Roche, is perhaps the most downright vulgar abusive female villain to be put to film.

Yes, we’re familiar with the theme, and of course Who’s Watching Oliver is Psycho for the modern age and Oliver, played by obsessively technical method actor Russell Banks, is a million times more disturbed than Norman Bates will ever be. Banks gets inside the skin of Oliver in a frightfully believable fashion and thoroughly deserves the awards he picked up on the festival circuit for best lead. This is a physically challenging performance, and Banks, in his first lead role, delivers the part well. He is Oliver for better or worse and Oliver must dance to the tune of the devil. The devil (aka Mama) finds work for idle hands, and Oliver gets his filthy little mitts dirty on numerous bloody occasions while banging to the beat of Mama's decadent drum. 
But its not all blood and guts. Oliver has a routine set around a Disneyland type theme park. He visits the rides and snaps pictures and generally blends in with bizarre environment around him. Foreigners living in this part of the world are considered strange oddities, so the locals who observe Oliver’s eccentricities aren’t too concerned by the shambolic spectacle of his incurable nervousness. By night, Bangkok is a different beast. Thousands of bars, a labyrinth of debauched personalities, and it is here, egged on by his online psychopathic mother, Oliver hunts. The picture reaches its darkest depths as Oliver brings back Clair, played by promising newcomer Kelly Woodcock, to his home and ties her to a table. Mama watches on encouraging her son’s misbehavior like a demented lip-glossed Frankenstein. But if Oliver is a monster, surely the beast who created him is more grotesque, more evil, a force that must be stopped before the killing spree goes too far and Oliver spends the rest of his years twitching in jail. 

And herein lays the theme of the film. Forget the blood, the gore, and the comedy – Oliver is at times hilarious. The picture is really a simple dark meditation on the abuse of the mentally ill. We are usually abused by those closest to us - a wife or husband, a mother or father. In the case of Oliver his Mama has a tight hold on him, as all mother’s do, but the hold here is destructive above and beyond normal maternal heartfelt strangulation. She's a bitch. Abusive cycles are difficult to break, but sometimes it takes another who has experienced similar patterns to recognize the symptoms and help a stranger out. Oliver’s olive branch arrives in the shape of Sophia played by Sara Malakul Lane. At first we wonder why she is approaching this profoundly limited personality, but her true motives eventually come to light. She wants to help him but first he must help himself by breaking the dysfunctional cycle. Together perhaps they can cut the evil puppeteer strings that Mama uses to manipulate Oliver. Perhaps they have a joint cause. At last there's a shimmer of light in the darkness.
Technically the film is a triumph. Debutant feature film director Richie Moore’s camera and light work is as good as anyone’s and it shows clearly in the picture that Moore has quite literally grown up with a film camera in his hand. The script, co-written by Moore, Banks, and producer Raimund Huber (who also had a strong hand in the jazz music selection – nice touch) is darkly impressive.  The picture is put together expertly by the editor Jesse Maddox. If you like your horror dark, and there’s not much darker than Oliver, you'll like this. It pushes boundaries, it shocks, but after waiting a year to see it, I'm glad to say it delivers. Who’s Watching Oliver will be distributed soon, and you’d be crazy not to see it.