July 5, 2018 Who’s Watching Oliver (Movie Review)
Evil mothers are a staple of Horror movies, maybe movies in general. They are either killing people themselves, like in 1994’s Serial Mom, being a spaceship and refusing to not blow up and kill Sigourney Weaver, in 1979’s Alien, or just plain killing people through their damaged sons, as seen in 1960’s Psycho. Available on DVD on July 10, 2018, thanks to Gravitas Ventures, that is where we find the Richie Moore directed Who’s Watching Oliver, a would-be macabre Dark Comedy that tends to get a little too nasty.
Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks: Pernicious 2014, I Love You Two 2016) is a thirty-something man-child living in Thailand seemingly making a living as a photographer. He is in constant contact with his haggard, screeching Mama (Margaret Roche: Lupin the Third 2014, Troy the Odyssey 2017) via Skype or some similar apparatus. She commands him to kill whenever the urge arises. Poor Oliver is growing tired of being a cudgel for his mother’s bloodlust, though. Problems arise when he meets a woman named Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane: Beyond the Gates 2016, Death Pool 2017) that he starts to take more than just a passing interest in.
Who’s Watching Oliver is a very simple tale. The story centers primarily around the three main characters. The conflict is well-realized and as a result the film has a lot of time to delve into these characters. So we do get a fully formed sense of the change within Oliver.
Oliver, interestingly, relies on old-fashioned technology despite his hookup (pun intended) with his Mama. He uses an old alarm clock complete with bells. His camera looks like if he were to set it on a tripod, flames and smoke would shoot out from any use of his flash. Oliver dresses like a Weezer-esque Buddy Holly 1950s square. Clearly he is a guy caught between worlds.
Unfortunately the rich character development doesn’t extend beyond him. Sophia, his love interest, just kind of meets him one day and likes him. Sure, that could happen. And her past is developed to a point where the audience should understand why she would take to an awkward loner like Oliver. But she never really becomes anything more than thinly sketched.
That leaves Mama, the third member of the main character trifecta. Before considering Mama, it should be repeated that she forces her son Oliver to commit heinous acts of brutal violence on women. This becomes quite ghastly, especially more so as Oliver often expresses sadness and regret for what he does to his victims. That being said (and this is important), the film’s score presents a sort of quirky oddness to the story, as if it were meant to be understood as a Dark Comedy. Sorry, but bloody rape, visualized on screen, makes it challenging for a film to be laughed at, bleak as the comedy may get. It betrays an extremely strange sort of tonal shift.
That brings us back to Mama. Mama is, simply put, an excruciating character to watch and listen to, and not in a good way. It is hard to understand what Moore and Roche were going for here. She plays it completely over the top, as though she were a super-villain. The character is a complete misfire. It lends itself more to the sort of kooky black comedy the score implies than the on-screen murder/rape story the film shows. It is hard to watch Mama without cringing, which one may argue is the point, of course. But she is still a campy, annoying cartoon character. Her performance basically underlines the fact that the film’s tone is all over the place.
It is a shame because Russell Geoffrey Banks, who also wrote the film, puts in a solid performance as the emotionally stunted Oliver. He really does embody a man fighting himself, especially because Oliver’s burgeoning oddball romance with Sophia develops somewhat sweet and tenderly. Sophia as a character may be a sketch, but Sara Malakul Lane brings her life.
Who’s Watching Oliver is a mixed bag, overall, thanks to the problems with the Mama character and the score. It feels like the film wants to be too many things and they just do not congeal. There are still some aspects to really like about it, though, which may actually make it feel even more disappointing. For that, CrypticRock.com gives Who’s Watching Oliver 2.5 out of 5 stars.