Who’s Watching Oliver (2017)

Who’s Watching Oliver first published by SciFiNow

The first thing we hear in Who’s Watching Oliver is ticking, and the first thing we see is an alarm clock. Sure enough, Oliver (co-writer Russell Geoffrey Banks) calibrates life to a clockwork schedule: up at 10am, he spends his day sitting in Bangkok’s Dream World like a child – and then at night lures a woman back to his apartment with drugs or money, so that at 1am, just after taking his medication, he can sodomise and murder her at the behest of his drunken, foul-mouthed Irish Mama (Margaret Roche), who is watching from her computer in England. 

A kidult in nerdishly thick glasses who mutters to himself and seems somewhere on the spectrum of neuroatypicality, friendless Oliver is trapped in a toxic Freudian cycle – like Norman Bates, only with a domineering, psychopathic mother who is on Skype rather than mummified upstairs. Yet one day at Dream World, Oliver meets his dream girl Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane) – who even talks about dreams – and in each other these two damaged souls hope to find their safe place, freed from the malign influence of family.

Despite its lack of interrogative punctuation, the title of Richie Moore’s debut feature suggests a question – and at a certain point, viewers are made to realise that they are themselves at least part of the answer, and that Oliver and his activities are no easy watch. On the one hand he is a vicious villain engaged in particularly grotesque rapes and serial killings, and on the other he is a sympathetic victim of his own horrific upbringing, desperate to break loose and to find, like any (late) adolescent, his own independence. He is also that most unlikely figure, a romantic hero of torture porn.

So Who’s Watching Oliver is a strange beast, by turns repellent, comical and sentimental. Its breezy jazz soundtrack sets an uneasily wrong note, even as its performances are good enough to get us on side with the unspeakable, the atrocious and the unhinged, while making us question what is real, and what is merely ticking over in poor, disturbed Oliver’s dream world. 

Strap: Mum’s the word in this Skype-driven spin on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

© Anton Bitel