We get the feeling right away that something is not completely right with Oliver, and that sets a dark tone right from the start. Oliver’s character is a unique one to follow and interesting to get to know. Russell Geoffrey Banks does a brilliant job portraying Oliver and Margaret Roche as Mama, was hilariously fun, over-the-top and crazy. There were a few very creepy moments, due to the cinematography, art direction and Banks’ acting, which really touched me. Sophia’s character was almost a breath of fresh air and it gave the story a new and exciting way to go. There was a montage towards the ending which I completely loved and I liked the way that it ended, because to me it felt very poetic, and if you ever get the chance to watch this film, please do so.
Who's Watching Oliver is a film about relationships. The tumultuous one between Oliver and his mother, the sickening violent one between him and his victims, and finally, the symbiotic relationship between Oliver and love interest - Sophia. It's in these relationships where I feel Who's Watching Oliver both lives and dies. Speaking to the latter, it was a little tough for me to buy into what the film was selling with regards to Oliver's emotional connection to Sophia. For my liking, not enough (quality) time was given to allow a more gradual build up and lead into the kind of substantial relationship that would ultimately push Oliver to challenge the norms which held him captive. I would love to have seen more apprehension in their initial meet-up, they are after all, damaged (through the abuse of trust), so a slow melt away of those emotional barriers would have gone a long way to investing in the bond they eventually share late in the film.
That said, I do love that this was the angle taken in the first place. Sophia is a woman who plays opposite to the character of Oliver's mother in every possible way, while sharing a common thread of abuse with Oliver himself. She isn't just a romantic interest for the titular character, but also represents hope for a future Oliver had no idea existed. Through her nurturing personality, Sophia demonstrates what a proper loving relationship should be; her juxtaposition against Oliver's mother, slowly supplanting the ideas he has for a maternal figure. It's simple yet brilliant, narratively speaking.
Of course, no good tragedy exists without a proper tragic character to build it around, and if there was going to be one aspect of Who's Watching Oliver that absolutely had to be nailed, it was Oliver himself. Thankfully Russell Geoffrey Banks absolutely smashes it in this regard, turning in a performance that bears remarkable similarities to Billy Bob Thornton's Karl in Sling Blade. He's awkward, and withdrawn in his demeanor, yet simultaneously capable and lethal bringing a sense of instability and unpredictability to the character. One minute you're sympathetic to Oliver's plight, and the next, repulsed. It makes for a dynamic enough tempo to keep you engaged through the film's ninety-minute runtime. Hopefully, we continue to see an upward trend in Banks' acting career (this being a massive improvement over his work in Ghost House), as it'll only mean some incredible things when paired with the kind of productions that can properly leverage his talents.
Not that this writing collaboration doesn't, but it's clearly obvious Banks - as Oliver - is by and large the best thing going here. Otherwise, the script is a little dry (reminding me of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, but without the subtly interjected humor or absurdity), the soundtrack is suitable if not safe, and the rest of the performances range from wooden to cartoonishly bombastic (Oliver's mom in particular, is played like a drunken slosh, delivering her lines in the most slurred, off-kilter way possible). Ultimately, It only just passes muster - but if you're looking for something gruesome (and heartfelt) to pass the time, go on, watch Oliver.
Rarely do I watch movies not knowing anything about the plot, but with Who's Watching Oliver I did just that. I knew of the title, but that's about it. Meet Oliver, a geeky mama's boy, who wakes up every morning and takes his pills, takes his camera and hops on the riverboat to get from place A to place B. He's a neat freak who has the same routine day in and day out, and his only company is a cat. The story takes place in Thailand, and there are some beautiful scenic shots (which make me miss Asia terribly).
Right off the bat, it's obvious that Oliver is a very sketchy dude. You know a creep when you see one, and he matches all the prime traits - sketchy, creepy and a tad bit scary. Oh yeah, also clinically fucking insane. You know how life can throw you into certain situations and there's a tiny voice inside your head telling you not to do something or not to go somewhere, because it just doesn't sit right with you? That's your fucking conscious, and you need to listen to it every. single. time. Or you might end up fucking dead.
And then Oliver meets the beautiful Sophia. Things change, but do they change for the better? Well, with Sophia, Oliver is able to discover what life is truly all about. With both of them having come from broken childhoods, they find trust in each other. Oliver's story is that of a child's and mentally, he still is a child. A child in so much that he's incapable of thinking for himself. His mother still has a strong grip around every facet of his being; giving commands from across the world, and Oliver will comply. Through Skype calls, she forces him to drug, rape and kill women that he picks up at night, as she watches these vile acts take place. Is he strong enough to break free? Or will he succumb to evil that birthed him? Can Sophia save him? Can anyone save him? Or is he a lost cause? Who's Watching Oliver doesn't hold back, it's raw and it's in a weird way intriguing to watch the transformation he goes through. How will it end, what will he become?
July 3rd, find out for yourself.