Horror is a genre which has been largely underestimated and maligned over the years. When Silence Of The Lambs won five academy awards, it left many wanting to call it something other than a horror film.
To some degree, I understand this trend. After Saw was a breakthrough success, an unwanted litter of substandard “Torture Porn” movies were born.
These movies largely relied on shock value and trying to be more extreme than those before it. This, in time, gave the horror genre a bit of a bad rep.
I bring all this up because I just saw a horror film called Who’s Watching Oliver, which is a serial killer movie that is a cut above.
Russell Geoffrey Banks (Soldiers, Dragonwolf) plays Oliver, an eccentric loner who wonders the streets of Thailand in search of his next victim. That is, until Oliver meets Sophia, played by Sara Malakul Lane (Kickboxer: Retaliation, Jailbird), a women he identifies with so deeply that he could never kill her.
Oliver’s previous victims are always attractive women who he convinces to come home with him, only to be savagely murdered. It is important to note that Banks did heavy lifting, not only lugging all those dead bodies as the titular role of Oliver, but he’s also one of the writers of the screenplay.
In a similar indie fashion, this is a telling debut feature for director Richie Moore (Crazy Medicine (Short)), who is also a co-writer and the Cinematographer of the movie.
What really pushes this story over the edge is that, in a way, Oliver is not the one killing these women…. it’s his mother. Margaret Roche (Lupin The 3rd, Troy The Odyssey) is credited as “Mama”. She gives a chilling, performance
as Oliver’s sadistic mother.
She manipulates Oliver like a puppet, to do these horrible things to women while she watches by way of webcam. In an organic way, we see how Oliver is brainwashed and traumatized from a life of abuse and coercion.
Some elements of how this was handled is the writing could have been better. Such as when Oliver tells his cat his traumatic backstory in one scene.
Yet, I have read other reviews that praised the filmmakers for not doing the traditional flashback in this case. I leave it to you to form your own opinions.
Overall the writing, look and feel of Who’s Watching Oliver is way better than your standard slasher fair. The movie was shot in Thailand and to great effect.
This setting adds to the realism of the terror taking place. Thailand is the kind of place that makes you think a guy like Oliver could easily get away with a killing spree or two.
The gritty scenes that show him dealing with these dead bodies, make the story even more legitimate. The filmmakers used this strange, exotic location to add to the dark yet hopeful tone of the story.
The best example would be the theme park where Oliver meets Sophia. This is a children’s park compete with a small scale train that passes inches behind these two lost souls while they walk and talk.
Flourishes of production value like this go a long way, also given what Oliver and Sofia bond over, this theme park setting was a brilliant choice.
Russell Geoffrey Banks is exceptional as this bold and complex character of Oliver. In this circumstance, Oliver is both murderer and victim, a line Banks balances well.
It was fascinating to read the bio for Russell Geoffrey Banks because, while he was born and raised in England, Thailand came calling. Banks was expelled from school at age fifteen and worked various odd jobs until breaking into acting mostly thanks to meeting film industry contacts while on vacation in Thailand. It turns out Oliver is not the only one with an interesting backstory around here.
In closing I must say that Who’s Watching Oliver is unmistakably a horror film, yet it has moments of dark humor and love that are a real sneak attack on your senses.
For you horror hounds out there, this movie will definitely satisfy your needs. It has just the right amount of blood and depravity…. if you’re into that kind of thing. There is quite a bit of female nudity as well.
To put the horror into context, it does not jump into the deep end like A Serbian Film, but it does dip its toes in those waters. And for the mix of tones, think American Psycho, but skewed more to the horror end and less of the dark comedy.