Thursday 31 May 2018

Who's Watching Oliver (Thailand/USA 2017: Dir Richie Moore)

The Oliver of the title in Richie Moore's pitch black trangressive movie is a strange, lumbering loner of a man. Possessed of a voice that is half Keith from UK TV show The Office and half Michael Caine, this troubled character appears, in the film's opening scenes, newly relocated to Thailand, accompanied by little else other than some threadbare clothes, a set of rusty knives and a laptop, which he uses to Skype and receive instructions from his domineering and clearly very addled dipsomaniac mother.

From here on in Oliver does what he has presumably done in other countries. At his mother's bidding he procures girls in bars, takes them home, rapes and kills them (rather like 'Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner' in Warren Zevon's 1978 song of the same name) then dismembers and disposes of the bodies. Oliver is clearly torn between the life he wants and the murderous desires of mama, which he tries and fails to resist. His worst excesses (!) kept in check by regular medication, Oliver's life is turned round when he meets the beautiful and beguiling Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane) in an amusement park. Sophia sees beneath Oliver's strange exterior, a romance of sorts blossoms, but it gradually becomes obvious that his new beau has some dark secrets of her own. Will her love for Oliver be enough to halt his life of murder and allow him to defy his own mother?

Richie Moore's debut feature is a very strange beast indeed. Tonally it tries to have its (bloody) cake and eat it, which means it never really settles between dark romance, torture porn and psycho biography. The recent crop of Ozploitation flicks  - from Wolf Creek to The Snowtown Murders via 1993's Bad Boy Bubby are obvious jumping off points (and this film is at times as difficult as all those put together) - but there was also something of Hywel Bennett's Martin/Georgie character all the way back in 1968's Twisted Nerve. I kept wondering whether Russell Geoffrey Banks (playing the titular character with a rawness seldom seen in independent pictures these days) was going to break character - and thus the fourth wall - direct to camera. It's to his credit that he didn't, but it makes Who's Watching Oliver a more relentless watch. 

If there is a criticism it's that the combined exuberance of Banks as Oliver and Margaret Roche as his mother are too sustainedly over the top to keep the lid on the movie's tension. At times it felt like early Peter Jackson gore movies - frenetic but with diminishing returns for the viewer - and I could have done with more light and shade in the performances. Also the relationship between Oliver and Sophia rather strained the 'opposites attract' concept and thus was never quite believable.

But there is an intensity in this film which was quite unexpected for this viewer, helped by a splendidly awkward soundtrack, which veered between jazz standards juxtaposing the onscreen, er, action, and pleasingly edgy electronic pieces underscoring Oliver's conflicting states. And even if his performance is occasionally uneven, you'll not see a more committed embodiment of the tortured serial killer in the shape of Russell Geoffrey Banks for quite some time. Go easy there traveller, but worth a watch.

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