SXSW 2008 - OTIS review

SXSW 2008 - OTIS review

If the sight of a 300 pound-plus sociopathic pizza delivery man squeezed into a powder blue tuxedo attempting to round second base with his captive-cum-girlfriend in a hollowed-out Trans Am in the basement of his run-down suburban home isn’t your cup of tea (and if it isn’t, really, why are you here?), there’s plenty more outré tableaux designed to push buttons and tickle blackened funny bones in Otis, the latest idiosyncratic offering from writer / director team Erik Jendresen and Tony Krantz, courtesy of Warner Brothers’ Raw Feed label.

A grotesque dark comedy of ill manners that takes astute satirical swipes at everything from the increasingly twisted realities of life in “Americana” to the overabundance of torture porn in mainstream media, Otis reps a consistently inventive and entertaining stylistic 180 from Krantz and Jendresen's last offering, 2007’s surreal meditation on fear Sublime.

Otis (Bostin Christopher) Broth’s string of kidnappings and mutilations hits home for Kate and Will Lawson (Illena Douglas and Daniel Stern) when their daughter Reilly (Ashley Johnson) is snatched in broad daylight and forced to aid Otis in acting out his twisted true-blue high school fantasies. Escaping in the wake of a visit by Otis’ equally unbalanced (but non-homicidal) brother Elmo (Kevin Pollack), Reilly finds herself pushed into hiding information from the inept FBI agents assigned to her case so her family can extract their own brand of vengeance.

From the outset, it’s apparent there’s much more afoot in Otis than a simple tale of kidnapping and torture. Jendresen’s script repeatedly targets American politics and the media’s obsession with the increasing volume of macabre crimes committed in the Heartland, and its aim is true. The film successfully skewers a range of topical material amid gleefully outrageous bursts of unexpected violence and humorously perverse set pieces.

A living, breathing testament to the dangers of “I Love the ‘80s!”, Otis’ world is a wholly realized carnival of sight and sound, driven by outstanding production design and a spread of classic ‘70s and ‘80s tunes layered nearly back-to-back over the film’s runtime. Krantz’s direction of the picture’s two distinct worlds – the Lawsons’ and Otis’ – is pitch-perfect, and the late-game collision between the two resonates that much more because of the work put in to differentiate them early on. An overall attention to detail and the drive to produce a full-bodied, end-to-end experience pushes the film into rarified air for fringe studio-sanctioned filmmaking - Otis is its own, entirely unique animal.

Christopher’s performance as the lumbering psychotic is a brave, pitched piece of mental and physical comedy. Douglas dives into her role as “the decider” of the Lawson clan with wild-eyed abandon, forever rationalizing the disastrous turns their misguided crusade for vengeance takes in a turn inspired by... well, you know. Jared Kusnitz as Reed, Reilly’s bad seed brother, slings acidly funny one-liners with aplomb.

The genre film unafraid to comment on the culture that’s spawned it is an increasingly rare commodity, so when one arrives and works its mojo the way Otis does it’s worth sitting up and taking notice. Otis consistently defies expectations the way art should, delivering a unique experience while remaining completely relatable and above all else entertaining.

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