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Saturday, November 11, 2017

BAFF 2017: WHO'S WATCHING OLIVER is a horror fairy tale


I'm not a fan of the torture-porn horror subgenre, generally. To me, the best horror films are those that create a genuine unease in the viewer by digging into a real issue by way of a horrifying situation. The Descent looks at the strength of female friendships and their changing dynamics while in a dark survival situation; The Thing portrays the dangers of paranoia and mob rule under the guise of an outer space monster movie. Gore and torture, on their own, don't do much for me, and are typically a cheap and lazy way to get a scare. I will, however, make an exception when a movie fails the torture-porn test but excels at making something unique and entertaining despite that, and that is exactly what Who's Watching Oliver does exceptionally well.

Who's Watching Oliver, directed by long time camera operator/cinematographer but first time director Richie Moore, follows a young man, Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks, also a co-writer). Oliver is a British man living in Thailand who may have some kind of developmental disorder. His days are very regimented: he goes through his morning routine, sits alone at a bench at a nearby amusement park, then goes to a bar where young women hang out. When each night he takes one of these women home with him, they are surprised to find themselves tied down, assaulted, and ultimately killed, all while Oliver's heinous, controlling mother (Margaret Roche) watches and barks orders from a computer screen.


On paper, the setup for Oliver's rather motivationless killing spree falls flat, but its the film's unique twist that makes this something more. Over time, the shy and awkward Oliver meets and falls for the equally disturbed Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane), who sits with him at the amusement park every day. From this point forward, it becomes a twisted kind of romance, with Oliver struggling to hide his murderous nightly activities from Sophia while keeping Sophia's existence a secret from his mother, who would surely have him kill Sophia on the spot. At times, this triangle is a funny little dance, but it mostly plays as a kind of fairy tale in which Oliver must escape the control of his overbearing mother and find a way to share every part of himself–including his bloody past–with Sophia.

This rather unique blend of genres is aided by the excellent and expressive cinematography. Moore has clearly honed his craft acting as camera operator for films such as The Hangover sequels and the recent Gold, and that experience is put to good use here as he explores the often surreal environments of Thailand. The film is often beautiful, which nicely contrasts the gritty and gross scenes of murder and bodily dismemberment. It doesn't hurt that the central location, a strange Thai amusement park, lends a dreamy, colorfully fairy tale look to the whole affair. The soundtrack often utilizes big band jazz, which also adds a fun and unique atmosphere to the film.

The central performance of Banks as Oliver is impressive; the handsome co-writer transforms himself into the hunched weirdo character consistently and quite convincingly, and you may find yourself sympathizing with him despite the awful things he does. You may feel this even more so due to the over the top but fitting performance by Roche as the mother. Roche gives her a controlled sense of bitterness and her foul mouth will make you as uncomfortable as Oliver himself is. While Lane is a bit of a one-dimensional love interest, she does a good job of portraying the surreally perfect partner for Oliver.



I don't think the film's story necessarily justifies the cruel actions that Oliver and his mother take on many innocent women–I think this could have been done a bit more tastefully in an era where we are all much more conscious of the way women are portrayed in film, and these moments are never done tongue-in-cheek as the romance angle often is. Still, the totally unique nature of the film's tone and experimentation with genre combined with its excellent production values make it a worthwhile watch and a pretty one-of-a-kind experience.


Who's Watching Oliver is directed by Richie Moore, and is playing at the 2017 Buried Alive Film Festival in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday 11/18 at 4pm at the Seven Stages Theater. Learn more about the film from its official Facebook page.
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