2018 | DIRECTOR. RICHIE MOORE | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
If you can imagine cramming Psycho, Bad Boy Bubby and Tony into a blender then you will begin to understand the quality of film I am taking about. And if you are up to date with independent Australian horror films you may know of a deliciously twisted movie called Cat Sick Blues... and if so, then you will certainly have cause to be excited about this wonderful little film.
Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks) is a 20-something man-child who has lived his life under the demented control of his psychotic mother. Having been raised in an environment of depravity and abuse, the story finds him in an unknown city - somewhere in Asia - where there is no shortage of working-girls to take home. His mother watches via web-cam as he tortures and rapes young women for her, before murdering them and dismembering their bodies. This, of course, is all at the insistence of mother (who presumedly funds this imposed lifestyle), and when there are no girls to bring home, she makes him masturbate directly to camera as she drinks wine and tells him that he's a good boy.
Twisted stuff huh? You bet, and I was blown away to be honest. Much like the aforementioned titles, WHO'S WATCHING OLIVER? is not the bleak and unscrupulous film that such a synopsis might suggest. It is, rather, a sincere and often whimsical story about a corrupted mind and the struggles of breaking free from the bondage of his mother. It presents a confronting story and fills it with empathy. At no point do we champion Oliver's actions, but we do spend the film hoping that he can break free.
Sophia (Sara Malaku Lane), is a girl who befriends Oliver at an amusement park and identifies with his introverted nature. She too had a troubled childhood and as the two of them bond, they begin to fall in love. Having never experienced friendship, let alone love, Oliver is convinced that he must stop killing women and must say no to his mother's demands. Yet those apron-strings are tied tightly and rejecting her is not so easily done. And so Oliver is faced with an internal conflict that he doesn’t know how to resolve, and throughout the final act of the film the story twists and turns in all sorts of unexpected directions.
WHO'S WATCHING OLIVER? marks the directorial debut for Richie Moore, whose career as a cameraman has seen him working on significant productions such as The Hangover 2 & 3, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol and Gold. His years of experience as a camera operator and cinematographer have given him an immediate know-how when it comes to shooting his own film, and the result is a beautiful and engaging piece of cinema with a production design that almost contrasts the grisly actions taking place on the screen.
Russell Geoffrey Banks' lead performance is beguiling as he graces the screen like a figure skater, gliding in and out of his character's personas. With his natural good looks buried beneath an insecure geekish veneer, his onscreen presence is immediately captivating. He gives a mesmerising performance which is, at times, terrifying, while at other times tender. He plays Oliver with the right amount of vulnerability, measured carefully with a significant amount of dissociation. His co-star Sara Malaku Lane is very sweet on screen and lends the film much of its warmth. She and Banks share a wonderful rapport, which solidifies the character's chemistry. Sadly the film's one debility is Margaret Roche's performance as Oliver's mother. It is not a strong performance, and perhaps this is partly due to her scenes being shot separately via webcam, without the proper interactions to ground her delivery. She spouts such wonderfully vulgar dialogue that with more conviction and improvisation she could have stolen the show.
Nevertheless, the power of WHO'S WATCHING OLIVER? is undeniable. It is a handsome and provocative film for anyone with the disposition to endure it. It has a tight running time of 87-minutes and Moore packs every single frame with something inspiring. Whether it be unrelenting violence, excessive profanity or whimsical amusement rides. He pairs his images with a brand of jazz music that we would expect in a Woody Allen film, which adds so much additional texture to his already spirited production design. I tip my hat to him because this is one hell of a confronting and unapologetic movie-going experience, and one hell of a ride!