There’s a spectacular amount of hype behind Richie Moore’s Who’s Watching Oliver. The film is cleaning up the festival circuit, bringing home several Best Picture and acting awards to solidify its place as a horror flick to be reckoned with. Having now had the opportunity to see the film for myself, I can comfortably say that Oliver lives up to the hype.
Russell Geoffrey Banks stars as Oliver, a mentally unstable loner with enough mommy issues to make Norman Bates look like an amateur. By night, Oliver is forced by his mother to (awkwardly) scope out the bar scene for easy women to bring back to his place. When there, he’s made to humiliatingly have sex with and kill the women while his mom watches on, verbally bashing them.
Oliver’s only happiness comes from his daily encounters with Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane), a sweet young woman who takes a general interest in him and seems to genuinely enjoy their time together. Entirely naive to the potential danger she’s put herself in, Sophia gets to know and understand the secret pain Oliver is harboring- but perhaps she’s carrying secrets of her own.
The script, co-written by Moore, Banks, and Raimund Huber, takes an interesting approach to the serial killer subgenre of horror. Rather than focusing on the horror of the killer, the story explores his humanity and paints Oliver as a victim himself.
Moore’s execution behind the camera is stellar, highlighting the underlying awkwardness in quirky ways, and playing the horror in a way that disturbs viewers in two different aspects. One being the horrific acts performed on unsuspecting women, and the other being the dramatic, dare I say heartbreaking effect it has on Oliver.
That brings me to the shining star of Who’s Watching Oliver, Russell Geoffrey Banks. Holy hell, can this guy act. Banks proves unforgettable in the role by layering his performance with pain, instability, and genuine compassion and sadness for the terrible things he’s forced to do. Rarely are there performances of this magnitude in lower budget films, but goddamn, he’s a powerhouse. Sara Malakul Lane is brilliant as well, bringing a kindness to the role of Sophia and hiding her broken spirit behind a deteriorating smile.
Who’s Watching Oliver succeeds in the study of broken characters and the horrible effect that family can (unfortunately) have on our lives. The scenes of torture are disturbing, but the effect that torture has on the titular character cuts even deeper. The film is well-crafted, powerfully acted, and above all, a fresh take on a crowded subgenre. You’ll love it.