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Article Archive >> Entertainment

Movies From the Black Lagoon: Otis - 2008,Unrated

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Otis - 2008,Unrated

"Silence of the Lambs" meets "Heathers" when a serial killer collides with an average American family in this sharp satire that proves, once again, that horror cinema is far from dead and can be merged with other genres.
The film starts out like your average thriller with a young woman in a glimmering prom dress getting a phone call while still in bed. You are immediately plunged into a nightmare when you realize that the young lady has been captured and it's her tormentor on the line. The guy, see the title for his handle, wants to know if she's looking forward to prom night. This lass hasn't caught the boogie fever and she promptly tells him to stuff it before running around the room smearing Vaseline on all of the video cameras set to record her every waking second in the dungeon. Otis comes smashing through the door and it all ends horribly for the victim.
Meanwhile, we meet the Lawson family. They're a blue-collar family seeking out a slice of the American dream where both have to hold down jobs to support their teenaged son and daughter. We also meet said offspring, Reed, the daughter, Riley. Riley is first glimpsed preening after a shower but her good cheer is soon deepsixed by her nihilistic brother who is caught video-taping her primping routine for a future run on his "YouTube" page. It all leads to a family sit down wherein Dad expresses his frustration with a son who sells pills in school and manufactures throwing-stars in shop class. Mom writes it off as a stage of development and the whole scene comes to a close when dinner arrives in the form of a pizza. Unfortunately, it's Riley who gets to pay the guy and he, of course, turns out to be none other than Otis (who lights up, literally, when he spies her).
Soon after Otis snatches Riley on her way to school and it isn't long before we learn the extent of the big guy's rituals. One of them is forcing his victims to adopt the name Kim - getting her used to the idea that it is now the 80's and she's to be a cheerleader with a mad crush on good old Otis, which will all culminate with a trip to the prom (Otis' living room, complete with a disco ball).
At the same time the Lawsons' are also victimized by the F.B.I. when they move into their home hoping to catch the killer.
A smug and highly insensitive profiler named Hotchkiss leads the team. Casually he states that the other five victims were viciously murdered and that the killer is way off the sanity trail. In the meantime, Riley proves her mettle by playing along with her captor's fantasy until she can hatch an escape plan. Her efforts pay off but things don't go predictably as her parents tells her to fake amnesia so they take justice into their own hands. This is a powerful scene that delivers on the grisly thrills but is also a fiendish reminder that revenge and justice often fail to intersect.
Satire is a tough genre to do but the writers here are up to the challenge and wisely choose to develop the characters of Riley and Otis with the most detail.
Everyone else borders on caricature but that's fine as a splendid cast is brought together to flesh out their roles. Daniel Stern and Illeanna Douglas totally rock as the parents. Stern is all middle-aged angst while Douglas rules as the lioness who gets her fur up when her daughter is threatened. Kevin Pollock also brings his A-game as Otis' angry older brother while Jere Burns contributes a sharp turn as Agent Hotchkiss. The film truly belongs to Ashley Johnson and Bostin Christopher who soar as Riley and Otis. Johnson manages to present a teen heroine who acts heroically but she never condescends to playing her as a tough woman, merely one who is toughened up by her situation.
Christopher excels by never allowing you to write Otis off as a psycho. He's deeply troubled for sure but his scenes with Johnson allow him to peel away the character's layers and show the guy he might have been had life dealt him another hand.
It's all made possible by the writers who refuse to deliver a formula thriller and instead shanghai the thriller formula to make comments on our culture, which includes a jab at twenty-four hour news networks that bleed a human interest story dry while exploiting tragedies for higher ratings. All this plus you get a final scene that is as hilarious as it is stunningly violent. Great stuff that proves direct to video films is the new frontier for cutting edge cinema.
Best Line: "I've already smashed him in the face with a shovel, I've hot wired his rectum."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.

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