FILM REVIEW – WHO’S WATCHING OLIVER. With Russell Geoffrey Banks, Sara Malakul Lane, Margaret Roche, Cecilia Belletti, Champagne Nuttanun. Written by Russell Geoffrey Banks, Raimund Huber, Richie Moore. Directed by Richie Moore. Not Rated. 87 minutes.
There’s a wide range of horror films out there, and the small, barely-released independent films often go far beyond mainstream Hollywood fare. WHO’S WATCHING OLIVER, available on VOD, is bloody and deeply disturbing. It’s also a film that raises some serious questions instead of simply wallowing in sadism, as in the odious “Saw” series.
If you can imagine Woody Allen directing “Psycho,” you have a sense of what this movie is like. Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks, who also co-wrote the script), is living a solitary life in Bangkok, where the film was shot. He’s apparently British and somewhere on the Asperger’s scale. By day he follows a routine where he wanders around with his camera, ending up at an amusement park. By night he’s picking up women and taking them back to his place.
It’s at that point that the movie becomes the stuff of nightmares. Oliver offers his “date” some drugs. When she comes to she’s naked and bound to a table facing a laptop, where Oliver’s Mama (Margaret Roche) eggs her son on to rape and murder. She’s Mrs. Bates times ten. Yet even though Oliver is committing heinous crimes, we understand that the real figure of evil is Mama and that he’s being victimized as well.
Things take a turn toward redemption when he’s approached in the park by Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane), a lovely young woman who seems genuinely interested in the geeky Oliver, breaking the ice by telling him her dreams. The film plays out the situation in unexpected ways and some may object to its final scene, but the filmmakers succeed in crafting a story where you can never be sure where it’s going.
The three principal actors manage to carry out their very difficult roles. Banks takes on a character which we could easily find off-putting, yet finds ways to make him sympathetic, much as Anthony Perkins did with Norman Bates almost sixty years ago. Roche’s turn is a truly monstrous creation, swilling cocktails while being entertained by what she makes her son do. As for Lane, we wonder why this woman would be pursuing Oliver instead of ignoring him, and she slowly reveals aspects of her character that puts her behavior in context.
Richie Moore, a long-time camera operator on other films, makes his feature directing debut here. He is very much in command of his camera, showing what needs to be shown quickly and efficiently. There’s nothing gratuitous, even when shocking, He also has a handle on the pacing for this 87-minute movie, so that the horror scenes and the character moments flow effortlessly.
This is clearly not a movie for everyone, with the nudity, violence, and just plain insanity of the proceedings (using the legal definition of not knowing right from wrong) making it truly disturbing. Yet for those who like their horror films challenging and edgy, “Who’s Watching Oliver” is most definitely worth a look. It’s likely we’ll be hearing from these filmmakers in the future.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.