I'm not a big fan of torture porn in general, and when I heard that Otis was a black comedy take on the sub-genre I was excited to see it. Torture porn, for all its peccadilloes, has a lot of tropes that could be mined for laughs if done by someone halfway clever. In addition, the big fishies in the internet horror fan scene sang this movie's praises.
Otis commits the most unpardonable crime a black comedy can commit: it's vile without being particularly funny.
I guess that the sense of humor is supposed to come from the bickering, dysfunctional family who loses their daughter to the pizza-delivering maniac. I think we're supposed to be amused by the domineering mother, the milquetoast father, the sleazy teenaged son, and the heartless Fed assigned to the case.
I really hated the family. I hated spending time with them. I hated the fact that someone thought it was funny to name a family of idiot vigilantes the Lawsons. I hated the fact that we're supposed to find it amusing that they torture Otis's asshole brother when five seconds of brainpower could have avoided this hilarious gaffe. Oh, the comedy that ensues! There were a few moments that rang clever, mostly the humorously vicious tone the media would use to describe Otis's actions, but occasional shock-funny moments don't really redeem the movie.
I think a big part of the problem I had with Otis was the schizophrenia of its intent. Watching the trailer, you get the sense that the movie is trying to be sold as a straight up, justifiable-revenge red state fantasy. Then the story goes on and you're told that it's a parable of misplaced vengeance and the consequences of unchecked fury masquerading as righteousness. But wait, isn't the victim a complete asshole? So isn't it kinda justified what they do to him? If so, why is the scene where they dispose of Elmo's corpse played (poorly) for laughs. The scenes where Otis and Riley are enacting scenes from his fantasies set against his shoddy backdrops have a strangely tender turn, as if the characters are forming genuine connections, but then they're jarred by shockingly graphic moments of sexual hostility.
There's the usual torture porn subtext of sexual violence against the female lead, but it's much more up front in this movie. When Otis starts pulling Riley deeper into his "Kim" fantasy, he keeps asking her how wet she is. When Riley shows resistance to playing along with Otis's fantasies, the threats become very sexual. When Riley finally escapes, her family fixates on the erroneous possibility that she was raped. While I get that sexualized violence is part and parcel with serial killer lore, and that Otis may only feel comfortable acting out his sexual drive in the context of his fantasy with a captured victim, it becomes a bit too much of the focus of the story for my taste.
Also, it's a fundamentally ugly movie. I get that Otis is a low budget film, but it's shot like a porn and it has that sleazy jazzy porn soundtrack. People have done much more with much less.
The one thing that held the movie together for me was Bostin Christopher's performance as Otis. I can't imagine this would be an easy role for an actor to take. Otis, as written, seems to require both innocent, bashful sorrow, and barely suppressed rage. Bostin has the right baby face for the role but he does a fantastic job imbuing Otis with a strange and genuinely sweet mix of pain and rage. I've seen a lot of torture porn films and the murderers tend to be portrayed as disembodied intellectuals or creatures of incandescent misanthropic fury. Otis, with his silly high school fantasy and crippling shyness, seems just as trapped in his cheap little dungeon as the poor girls he drags down with him. I like Bostin Christopher and I will keep an eye out for any future projects he gets involved in.
Generally speaking, I thought the performances were good. The actors simply aren't given enough to work with, particularly Jere Burns as unsympathetic FBI Special Agent Hotchkiss. Hotchkiss could have been a neat creation, a glib and heartless counterpoint to all those smooth feds we're used to seeing. Instead, the filmmakers turned the character completely insufferable, delivering smarmy lines while chewing gum in every fucking scene he's in.
Hated, hated, HATED this movie. Still, I'm now a Bostin Christopher fan. Check out his blog.
Who, in the absence of any good horror flicks this season outside of Quarantine, will probably see Saw 5.