Otis DVD review

Billed as Juno for the horror crowd, Matt finds Otis to be repugnant, juvenile, and just plain not very good.

Otis - the hilarious rapist.

Bostin Christopher plays Otis, a serial killer who kidnaps teenaged girls and keeps them in his den, where he makes them dress up in cheerleader outfits and act out the prom night he never had. His latest victim is Riley (Ashley Johnson), a perfect A grade student who finds herself at the mercy of this lunatic. Otis has been slapped with a rather cheap sales tactic the promoters are clearly proud of. They claim it is “the Juno of horror films.” The problem with that sales pitch is that Juno was an annoying piece of indie wank that tried far too hard to be clever, quirky and funny, and failed on all counts. Unfortunately, Otis suffers exactly the same fate, but with the added bonus of leaving a nasty taste in the mouth.

First and foremost, there are cloudy areas here which need to be cleared up. Some people and journalists for certain news papers watch films and get overly sensitive about the wrong kinds of things. I’m not one of those pious Daily Mail readers who believes horror films and video games are the downfall of society and are only for loners and the depraved – I absolutely love both video games and horror films. But there is a very fine line between black comedy and something which is simply offensive and without any mirth.

There was a great outcry at the time of Hostel, for example, with many people slamming it for being sexist, xenophobic, and a million other things. Personally I didn’t find any of the above to be true of the film. Hostel was a horror movie of terrifying proportions that wanted us to be fearful for and sympathetic with the plight of its tortured characters. Here is the crucial difference then. A big part of Otis’s job as a comedy-horror is to make us laugh; the problem is that 90% of the time, it wants us to laugh at the idea of a girl being raped. There are far too many instances in this film where it’s clear we’re supposed to be laughing at the idea of a young girl being raped by a pervert. It’s completely relentless.

One scene features Detective Hotchkiss (Jere Burns), who is working on the case, talking with Riley’s family. He begins to talk about the mindset of the kidnapper, remarking on the subject with blunt, tactless detail, saying how he would probably want to have sex with Riley, and then going on to describe in graphic detail the fates of the previously murdered girls, and how one of them only had 60% of her body recovered. Later, Hotchkiss drops into a chair beside the girl’s family and blurts out, “yep, he raped her,” to which the girl’s father says, “I knew it!” It’s such a cheap, blasé way for a father to react to such news, and, if the rest of the film weren’t as bad, it would feel entirely out of place.

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When Otis himself is coming out with his vile, immature comments, such as telling Riley’s mother that he is going to “fuck her daughter,” it could be argued that this is portraying the behaviour and character of the sick pervert we’re supposed to abhor, which is fair enough. But when other, supposedly well-balanced characters like a local news reporter are saying on the TV, “he’s probably raping her with his eyes right now … raping her?” then there’s clearly no excuse for it other than that these are the words and thoughts of the director, who clearly intends for it to be funny. Moreover, even Detective Hotchkiss is shown to get off on the idea of Riley being raped. When interviewing her in the hospital he asks whether she can remember details of her kidnapping, saying “you were there, being raped, over and over,” and clearly relishing the thought.

Seriously, rape is referred to and made fun of so many times that after the first half dozen times I lost count. The film is not clever enough to be a social commentary, and it’s not dark enough to be humorous, which leaves it as being simply offensive. Even the scene where Otis punches Riley so hard he knocks her out is followed by a lengthy pause, suggesting the scene was played for laughs. It’s puerile, repugnant and just not funny.

Another huge problem is the acting. The family in particular are terrible. Illeana Douglas plays a constantly smirking mother. Even when she’s on the phone to the man who has taken her daughter and may possibly murder her, she wears an expression on her face as if she’s just thought of some amusing joke and is trying not to laugh out loud. Daniel Stern is a let down as the father, who never seems to take the script seriously for a moment (and why should he?) and, like Douglas, plays the part of mortified parent perpetually amused. They react to the news that their daughter has been kidnapped by a murderer in much the same way as they’d react if their favourite football team lost a game or the car broke down.

Then there’s the dubious nature of Riley’s brother Reed (Jared Kusnitz) who enjoys taking a video camera and filming his sister while she dances in her bedroom wearing next to nothing. The parents find out about this and, again, treat what could actually become full-blown incest as something as trivial as if their son merely broke a vase. It’s as if the director is saying “So what? He films his sister when she’s getting dressed, who hasn’t done that? Lighten up!”

After that, we have the music. A lot of people and probably the film makers themselves will say Otis has a great soundtrack. It doesn’t. It merely uses the same cocky, twangy kind of guitar music you’ll hear in more or less every Tarantino film. It probably thinks its soundtrack is incredibly quirky and original. And it’s not. I mean, who ISN’T aping the shit out of the 80s right now? If anything, the soundtrack is conceited and entirely unoriginal.

The special features on the DVD are copious, including commentary by the director and a feature which gives us an insight into the fates of the first five girls Otis kidnapped and murdered. But even so, it’s just more of the same cheap trash.

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Overall, this is an exercise is banal comedy, wherein director Tony Krantz’s main joke and inspiration for making the film seems to be a sentiment that says “LOL, rape!” and then runs away giggling like a naughty schoolboy. I’m not convinced the people behind this actually know what black comedy is, and I’d suggest the makers of this film and every other film like it watch The Day Today, Nighty Night or Brasseye to discover how black comedy is actually done. As it stands, the only people I can imagine finding this movie genuinely hysterical are people like Otis himself – in short, depraved, juvenile delinquents.


1 out of 5
2 out of 5

Otis is released on the 11th of August.


4 out of 5