Starring: Bostin Christopher, Ashley Johnson, Illeana Douglas, Daniel Stern, Jared Kusnitz, Jere Burns, Kevin Pollack
Directed By: Tony Krantz
Written By: Erik Jendresen, Thomas Schnauz
Otis is a satire on the recent “torture porn” films. However, it is more than just a comedic take on the subject. The laughs and outrageous actions of the characters that we see going on are both thrilling, disturbing and all too possible. There is a huge component of truth to the film as it goes in to events that happen every day. It goes past this truth though and even goes in to reasoning, where we are able to understand this mad man. What causes him to be the way he is is something that is very universal, showing that many people have the potential to be an Otis.
Kate (Douglas) and Will (Stern) are a happy married couple living in a nice suburban home. They have two teenagers, a daughter, Riley (Johnson) and a son, Reed (Kusnitz). Their feeling of security makes them think that the bad things in the world couldn’t happen to them. Kate and Will seems to be more concerned with Reed, fearing that he is getting in to drugs and slacking in school. However, soon their concern shifts to Riley. After they order pizza from a new place one night, the delivery guy, Otis (Christopher) takes a liking to Riley. The next day he kidnaps her and takes her in to an underground dungeon in his basement. Riley wakes up chained to a bed with cameras surrounding her. As the phone rings, to her horror she finds out that it is the man who brought her there. She tries to plead her way out of the situation and even begins to lash back, unwilling to control her anger.
Riley soon learns that it is all a game to Otis, playing along is her only hope for survival. She begins responding to the Kim, the name that Otis can’t stop repeating, and goes along with everything else that he says. Meanwhile, her family is completely panicked and desperate to see Riley alive. Agent Hotchkiss (Burns) is heading the investigation to find the kidnapper who is responsible for torturing and killing 4 young girls before Riley. He still doesn’t have any leads on the case, making it seem very unlikely that he will be able to save Riley.
During this time Otis is continuously calling her parents, acting as if they are two high school kids in love. Regardless of this fictional youth he is attempting to bestow on himself, he doesn’t hold back any of his sick tendencies. When Riley is finally able to get free, her family is there for her, maybe even more so than they should be. They decide that they can’t leave this situation up to the courts; they need to get revenge immediately to pay back the selfish and twisted man that hurt Riley to ensure that he can never hurt anyone again. They attempt to do this by brutally mutilating him and seeming as cruel and demented as Otis if not more so.
The acting in the film is absolutely phenomenal. There is not one weak link; everyone uses a sense of realism while showing us intensity as well as subtle comedy that really doesn’t seem like it should be so comical but works wonders. This adds a level of naturalism to it as well as a shocking tone. Bostin Christopher brought Otis to life in every sense. It is amazing what he did here in his first lead role. His presence is extremely disturbing; making you fear what he may really be capable of. In a very gradual way between how he is treated by his brother and his lack of fond memories of his teenage years, we learn that he isn’t completely inhumane. Christopher accurately displayed this, adding a higher complexity to his character.
Ashley Johnson gave an incredible performance as well, rivaling Christopher and adding odd chemistry between them.The chemistry obviously wasn’t in a romantic way, but in a way that displayed just how talented and strong they both were as actors that allowed them to work off one another so well. Johnson’s character was clearly a victim, but she added so much depth to the role. She used intelligence and wit and resisted the helpless role that would just get her killed faster. Johnson makes it hard to look away as even her silent moments reveal so much about her character.
Riley’s parents played by Illeana Douglas and Daniel Stern alongside Jared Kusnitz playing Reed, were the most direct reason for the hilarity of the film. This was because of the irony in the situation as their characters turned in to something that seems so far from the people that they were prior to Riley’s kidnapping. Although, the father is the one holding back more, trying to remain a moral human being and to put all of his faith that his daughter’s kidnapper will be properly punished, this doesn’t hold up. He admits to his animalistic urges deep down inside of him. Up until this point Stern plays his character wound a little tight using an off beat persona.
When this family becomes murderers it serves as an illustration of the point that a maniac is somewhere inside of all of us, the only question is what does it take to make it come out? Earlier in the film Will is criticized for not letting out his anger. After years of holding that anger in, it builds up to the most horrifying action that he would have never thought he was even capable of committing. Douglas and Kusnitz make the film all the more thrilling, entertaining, and extremely funny. Jere Burns is very entertaining to watch here as a clueless investigator who shows how hopeless the criminal justice system can be at times. There is a turn with him as well as Riley’s family. In an interview at one point when his character is asked what sets him apart from his victims he responds that he wears a condom. It proves to be true that there isn’t all that much that sets him apart as he has a deep level of insanity and desire to be a part of the violence that he investigates.
We know there are some problems with Otis and his brother, because of the sloppy and lazy way he is living his life at 30. There is also some aggression there between him and even mentioning the name, Kim. Obviously, she caused some clear destruction even known to Otis’ brother although he doesn’t know about his attempts to recreate this lost woman. What exactly happened between Otis and Kim isn’t known to us. Going back to what happened could put in to perspective why this obsession is so important and impossible for him to let go of, which is one thing the film is lacking. This could add even more humanity to Otis and making him relatable to someone who might have experienced something similar. However, whatever the reason we are still given the same product in what it has turned Otis in to. We are given enough of an idea of the motives to Otis’ madness to have a basis of understanding.
The dungeon in the film is set up as the world of a high school girl. The bed where he leaves his victims is pink and shiny with shocks and lights that can severely burn. It has imprisoning wires that will electrocute, precisely made for the high school girls he kidnaps. Otis has football uniforms, cheerleader outfits, and prom attire for his role playing purposes. He even creates the football and prom night scenes right there. All of this is much more than just dramatic play to him though. It is clear that he didn’t have high school experiences that he can look back on fondly.
As monstrous as he seems, he actually doesn’t want to kill or even hurt the girls he has there. He clearly put all of his hopes in this woman, Kim. When he lost that, he just couldn’t give up on it. Otis kidnaps these girls, desperate for them to be his Kim. No woman has done this willingly so in his mind, he has no choice but to force them in to it. When he abuses and harms them, it is just because they refuse to be what he wants them to be in his eyes. For so many years, high school has been a horrible experience for so many people, aside from the select few elite popular. So many people have had many failures in their search for young love just as Otis did. So what if everyone ended up like Otis because of it? This doesn’t change the fact that we hunger for his revenge along with Riley’s family. It’s simply refreshing to have a serial killer that is so complex and comes from a place of normalcy gone horribly wrong.
Otis is the perfect example of American suburbia gone insane. It depicts brutally torturing and making an individual feel pain in the sickest and most demented ways as if that was the only normal and healthy response for a family member to have: the one true way to show that they cared. By doing this in the movie, it in itself is critiquing how morality is often lost in our society today. The family is more murderous than Otis was since he was actually very upset when his victims died. He only harmed them in hopes of scaring them in to giving him the acceptance that has been lost for him. The writing in the film accompanied by the brilliant and energy charged portrayals of these unique, but all very likeable characters in one way or another is spot on making it smart, hilarious, disturbing, and very real.