Throughout the pantheons of horror movies over the decades, there have been a whole slew of serial killer pictures – some good, some outright awful. Here we are in 2018 with Who’s Watching Oliver, so let’s see which side of the fence this latest serial killer effort falls in to when it comes to quality.
Played by co-writer Russell Geoffrey Banks, Oliver is a loner who lives by regime and repetition and is someone who’s clearly socially awkward. He’s also a serial killer who’s desperately trying to break out of the life that his mother has imposed upon him. Living by himself in Thailand, he has regular video calls with Mama (Margaret Roche) as she encourages him to bring back a random lady for her to watch him abuse, torture, rape, and eventually kill. And yes, all of that is as tough to watch as it sounds. Fortunately for Oliver, though, the shining light of hope presents itself in the form of Sofia (Sara Malakul Lane). You see, Sofia goes out of her way to make conversation with Oliver, and the two soon end up on a remarkably awkward, yet completely adorable date. As his feelings for Sofia surface, Oliver sees this as a shot at normalcy and a chance to finally remove the grasp this his deprived mother has over him.
Who’s Watching Oliver is a brilliant piece of filmmaking from first-time director Richie Moore, and the film instantly grabs you from its opening moments, at first through how it’s stylishly shot, and then through the roller coaster of a narrative that we see play out. While the film is indeed about a serial killer, the kills, carnage, and gore aren’t positioned as the focal point of the picture. Sure, the gore is there, but it’s just simply part of Oliver’s everyday routine at the behest of Mama. It’s not stylised, it’s not glorified, it’s simply there as a grim reminder of how messed up Oliver’s life is – regardless of how much he wants to just enjoy the normalcy that now finally seems within reach thanks to Sofia. Despite how much Oliver wants out of his murderous ways, the truly twisted hand of mother never seems far away.
Undoubtedly, Oliver is a broken being who has more issues that Michael, Jason, Freddy, and Chucky combined, but Russell Geoffrey Banks puts in a performance that often has you rooting for him to finally break Mama’s shackles. Banks – who we actually slated in our review of Ghost House earlier this year – is phenomenal here, bringing a whole range of emotions to Oliver. Rather than a film about a serial killer, the nuanced performance of Banks, not to mention the direction of Moore, make this feel almost documentary-esque in its presentation. Clearly Banks, Moore, and Raimund Huber did their research when putting together the screenplay for Who’s Watching Oliver, with the intricate details of the titular character truly breathtaking in how thorough they are. Whether Oliver is rehearsing his smile and dialogue in the mirror, or seeing his mannerisms change as he interacts with mother, there are so many small details brought to the fore in the portrayal of the clearly damaged Oliver.
Who’s Watching Oliver is a tough watch, and this minimal movie – with both Sara Malakul’s Sofia and Margaret Roche’s Mama the only other notable characters, taking the role of the proverbial angel and devil on Oliver’s shoulders – is a fascinating essay on the everyday life of a serial killer. Oliver is a reluctant monster who isn’t necessarily of his own making, and as the titular character, Russell Geoffrey Banks puts in a performance that is a true genre standout of 2018. Much like Who’s Watching Oliver itself. A grim watch at times, but a recommended watch nonetheless.
WHO’S WATCHING OLIVER / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: RICHIE MOORE / SCREENPLAY: RUSSELL GEOFFREY BANKS, RAIMUND HUBER, RICHIE MOORE / STARRING: RUSSELL GEOFFREY BANKS, SARA MALAKUL LANE, MARGARET ROCHE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW