Otis is a psychotic man child who wants to take “Amy” to the prom. The Lawson’s are the family who wants to make him pay for it.
I watch a lot of really bad horror movies for my reviews. I also get my fair share of independent movies that never seem to pay off at the end of the day. When I mix the two categories, I get very few hits and way too many misses. Looking back over my reviews, only Fido got a really favorable review from me, while most others ranged from average to horrible. That is why when I watched Otis, I could only sit there at the movie’s conclusion with a big dumb smile on my face.
Tony Krantz, whose only other directorial credit is the 2007 film Sublime, crafts together one of the best films I have seen in a long time. I believe he hit the mark in almost every area of the production. From his casting, to his use of mise-en-scene, to his use of music, to his expert mix of humor and horror, Krantz made a movie that has me really excited to see where he goes from here.
When the movie starts, we see a girl named Kim chained up in a small room, bruised and beaten. She is being held captive by a man named Otis, a psychotic man child who wants her to pretend to go to the prom with him. There is a number of torture devices Otis uses in the room including a powerful batch of lights that are used to practically cook his captive. What looks like another version of torture porn is turned on its head when the girl fights back but finds herself dead. We switch from that tragic death scene to Otis crying because he had spent six weeks priming her for the senior prom he was so excited for.
A very black comedy, Otis (Bostin Christopher) is an overgrown pizza delivery driver who only wants to play pretend with the girls he kidnaps. He acts like he is a popular football player and his captives are the main cheerleader who will go to the prom with him. He has an older brother (Kevin Pollak) who treats him like shit and appears to have emotional problems of his own. Amy is the fourth girl that he has killed.
We then meet the family from the film. Daniel Stern plays the father, a very uptight by-the-book man. Illeana Douglas is the mother, a nurse who seems a lot more loose and dangerous than her uptight husband. Jared Kusnitz plays the trouble making son, apt to get stoned and video his sister dancing in her underwear through her window. Ashley Johnson plays the smart daughter who has a little wild streak about her. It is this daughter, Riley, that will become Otis’ next victim.
This cast is just spectacular from top to bottom. Christopher had appeared in only one other movie before this and was spectacular in his role as the man child. Everything he did made you both feel sorry for and repulsed by him at the same time. It was a good mixture of his violent moments and pathetic attempts at acceptance by the writer that helped, but Christopher deserves all the credit for making a character this absurd seem so real.
Daniel Stern was so oblivious he was a joy to watch. In the commentary they compared him to Dick Van Dyke and I can see that. Illeana Douglas has always been an entertaining actress to watch and she blew me away with her performance here. Jared Kusnitz was solid in his smaller role as well, but the real star of this movie was Ashley Johnson. Johnson was spot on perfect as the smart victim, playing the kidnapper at every step of the way. Whenever Otis became more violent, she became more playful and almost began to manipulate the entire ordeal. I understand the script had a lot to do with that, but in motions and reactions and facial tics, Johnson was perfect in every way. The scene where her and Otis are on their after prom make out section, she made the scene work. Her facial expression and tone of voice made me laugh out loud.
Even the character actors were solid. Only Kevin Pollak was a little too much as the brother with anger management issues. The FBI agent sent in to track down the kidnapper was played to comic perfection by Jere Burns. He was hilarious in every scene he appeared. In a tiny role as a newscaster that seemed to have no sense of social interaction, Tracy Scroggins was cringe worthy and hilarious when talking about the victims. It made me sit up and notice that Tracy Scroggins was still alive.
The music was perfectly situated throughout the movie as well. Whether it is the “date scenes” between Otis and Riley or the music when the movie flips in the third act, it is just a perfect match to an already entertaining film.
The third act works so well in this movie and flips it completely on its head. A small spoiler is Riley escapes and once she does the movie changes from strange, comedic torture porn into a revenge flick. The family, pushed as far as they could be by Otis, sets out to find him and make him pay for what they did to their little girl. Just when you think the movie is travelling down the road you expected, there is one last twist at the end you might not have seen coming. One thing about the ending makes no sense. It was a fun end that fit the rest of the movie but there was a pretty strange continuity error to set it up.
The script is smart, the direction is superb, the music is wonderful and the acting is spectacular. If you think I am gushing, you would be right. This is not just a great small quirky, independent movie, it is a great movie period. I can’t recommend this enough.
There is a commentary track with director Tony Krantz and writer Erik Jendresen. It is an interesting listen and the two are rarely boring, giving lots of information while disagreeing on a number of small things. There is an alternate ending, which comes with or without a director’s introduction. This ending is 100 percent different from the one in the movie and I don’t think I would have given the movie as high a score if it had been kept. It really betrayed the humor of the movie, twisting it back to the horror aspects of the serial killer movie.
The Twisted World of Otis is a featurette that looks at the making-of the movie. Don’t watch the feature before you watch the movie because it gives away the twist. There is some repeating by the director, but everyone else seems pretty excited about being involved in this film. Otis’s Home Movie Suite 16 is a movie he put together mixing footage of his victims together to tell his story.
Finally, there are Raw Feed Trailers for the following movies: Otis, Rest Stop, Rest Stop 2, Sublime, and Believers.