The act of creating any independent horror film entirely in the absence of studio support is always impressive entirely regardless—and sometimes in spite—of the end result. Indie horror is always to be celebrated and encouraged. They’re very real art, but they often take very real work to appreciate.
Interesting things happen when you combine the drive, the technical competence and the budget to create a legitimate movie with the unrestrained and untempered imagination of a total lunatic. Indie movies are never really “perfect” or “great” but often times this will lead to envelope-pushing, traumatic and highly disturbing efforts like the grotesque Found (2014). Other times, you get Who’s Watching Oliver? (2017).
It it disturbing? Yes. Does it push the envelope? It throws the damn thing in the fire. But is it traumatic, is it moving, is it rad as heck? In other words is it good? No. Who’s Watching Oliver suffers from poor editing and pacing, and is dragged down constantly by one performance in particular, from an actor (entirely understandably) being totally unable to sell their super-fucked-up character.
The main character—a “high-functioning” autistic man living in Thailand to escape his abusive home life—is portrayed competently enough by Russell Geoffrey Banks. It’s no fault of the actor (probably) that this character is also a monstrously insensitive and inaccurate portrayal of people with autism.
Ostensibly a working photographer, Oliver spends his days sitting on a park bench. He never seems to photograph anything (or sell his photos to anyone) but this is how he makes a living, apparently. In the evenings, he usually picks up a hooker and then fucks and kills her on webcam for his mother’s sexual gratification. Er, yeah, the same mother he fled America to avoid who is, somehow, still completely in control of his life. This transgressive relationship is appalling and all but incest—even gross, weird serial killer incest—is not new ground to tread. Bleak, sordid, murdery incest is central to the conflicts of classic films—not only horror films, either—like Psycho (1960) and Chinatown (1974). Its depiction here is, to be fair to this movie, really nasty. It’s never so gross that you have to look away but it’s trying to be fucked up and weird and it totally achieves that. Again and again.
The directors were definitely caught up in the notion of a serial killer fuckmurdering so his mom could get her rocks off and it shows. It’s an extremely uncomfortable thing to watch. Unfortunately, some of that discomfort comes from the mismatched and often amateur-level skill of the (very small) cast that the entire thing rides on. There is a real and surprising lack of nudity and tension throughout Who’s Watching Oliver that creates an atmosphere more of irritation and impatience than fear.
There are real moments of fear for Sara Lane’s character, and for Oliver’s well-being. These moments are typically overhwelmed by some technical error, but they’re there.
It’s very difficult for indie films to create real trauma in the audience and Who’s Watching Oliver is no different. This one just ain’t gonna scar your psyche. No matter how many times that lady calls her son a “motherfucker” while he jacks off for her.
There’s gallons of blood, and maybe some light gore, but the effects budget was visibly constrained. It’s really violent though.
Given that the central theme of this one’s more or less sex-killing, as you can imagine there’s quite a lot of nudity, but there’s nothing full frontal or shocking really.
There’s nothing you could really call a “scare” in this one. Just a lot of nasty shit.
Overall this wasn’t the year’s best indie horror by a long, long shot. It’ll more than likely end up making the rounds on the festival circuit and garner a good number of awards because it is competently composed. The lead couple are passable. Everything in Who’s Watching Oliver passes the bar of “award-winning indie film.” It’s just not winning any from us.
We’re not saying everyone involved in this one should give up filmmaking or acting or cinematography. It’s not like it sucks or something - it’s still better than a lot of the indie stuff that comes across our desks. It’s worth checking out if nothing else is playing, don’t skip it, but we can’t really recommend it either. So, like, 2.5/5.