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Otis (2008)

Otis reviewReviewed by Johnny Butane

Starring Bostin Christopher, Ashley Johnson, Daniel Stern, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak, Jere Burns

Directed by Tony Krantz


Other than Joe Lynch’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, I can’t think of any movies made by a major studio specifically for DVD release that ended up getting festival play. That’s saying something, no? This past weekend I got to see Otis on the big screen thanks to the Boston Underground Film Festival, and I can see why Warner Bros. is so damn proud of this strange little film.

Otis follows a very troubled man, the titular Otis (newcomer Christopher), who has some serious issues involving the high school prom he apparently never got to experience and keeps capturing beautiful young girls to enact his perfect prom night scenario until, eventually, they end up dead. As the film opens, five girls have already been found dismembered, scattered across the city, and the police and FBI are no closer to figuring out who did it than they were after the first.

Otis sees beautiful young Riley (Johnson) when he delivers her a pizza, and realizes she’s the perfect girl to be his dream date … again. He kidnaps her in broad daylight and pretty soon her parents (Douglas and Stern) are loosing their minds trying to find her, the ineffectual and perpetually full of himself Agent Hotchkiss (Burns) being of no help whatsoever.

Meanwhile Riley learns the benefit of playing along with Otis’ sick game, which unfortunately for her means having sex in the back of a hollowed out Trans Am (which he has in his basement, of course) until she finds her chance to escape him before it can go too far.

She tells her parents where he lives and her mother, completely fed up with the ineffectiveness of the FBI to this point (understandably so) convinces her husband and teenage son that the only way to make sure Otis is punished for what he did to their little girl is to torture him right back. They break into his house, wait for him, and … well, let’s just say they should’ve got a description before heading out to take some rogue justice.

Tony Krantz’ second directorial effort, following last year’s Raw Feed title “>Sublime (DVD review) shows a filmmaker with an astute concept of what works in genre cinema and what’s wrong with it as a whole. He’s able to tell a story about a pedophiliac sociopath whom you can’t help but feel some sympathy for, especially when he’s being smacked around by his brother (Pollak).

Otis is a black comedy of the darkest variety that’s helped immensely by the ingenious casting. Christopher turns in a fantastic performance as Otis, a role that I’m sure wasn’t easy to get just right. Stern and Douglas have great on screen chemistry and their relationship is just fucked up enough to be believable. They work off one another well, as unlikely a duo as they may look from the outset, and their quipping during the protracted torture scene makes it all hurt a bit less. For us, anyway. It’s hard to make torture funny, and Krantz certainly pulls no punches in making sure his victim suffers, but by this point in the movie you’ll have a solid grasp on its tone and won’t be able to help but laugh when they send a shitload of electricity up the torture victim’s ass.

Krantz took an overdone idea and gives it a sick little spin so that the end result is something you’re laughing with instead of at like, say, Captivity. Otis is smart, too. Like Sublime, Krantz made put in political subtext throughout to point out issues with our government and their tendency to overact without enough information. Unlike Sublime, though, the pokes aren’t subtle at all, mainly coming from the behavior of Agent Hotchkiss, easily the most outwardly comedic role in the film. His bumbling efforts to find the killer before anyone else can are over the top and his dismissal of the feelings Riley’s family has is exaggerated to an absurd degree, but it works in the context of the film and he ended up being my favorite character.

Only issue I would take with it overall is that sometimes it does try a little too hard to be funny. A lot of the comedy does come naturally through the performances and a tight script, but there are some moments where the attempt to ellicit laughs comes off as a bit desperate. Thankfully they’re few and far between, though.

I can see now why Warner is so happy with Otis, it’s certainly not some generic torture porn rip off, I just wish they would give it a chance in theaters, however brief it might bed. It’s a great movie to see with a crowd, to hear the laughter and groans of sympathetic pain throughout. But, it was made for DVD and for DVD it shall stay, I’m just glad I got to see it in a theater when I had the chance.

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4 out of 5

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Johnny Butane