Otis (Bostin Christopher), an obese, crushingly socially awkward 40-year-old pizza delivery guy lives in the dilapidated home of long gone parents with the only visitor being his verbally abusive older brother Elmo (Kevin Pollack). Unbeknownst to Elmo, Otis has a hobby of kidnapping teenage girls and forcing them into a jock/cheerleader prom roleplaying scenario he never had as a young man in a dungeon-like garage outback. The only problem is Otis just can’t find a willing playmate; the last girl was accidentally electrocuted in a bathtub while attempting an escape. Then the big boy finds Riley (Ashley Johnson), the daughter of a family he delivered to one chance evening, and falls into kidnap-slathered lust. Soon after retrieving his prize in a burlap sack, a brash FBI agent (Jere Burns) heads up the case for her parents (Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas) and little brother (Jared Kusnitz) while his team of investigators invade their home and the media frenzy over the trail of murders continues. Riley, or “Kim” as Otis demands her name be, invades her captor with no help from the inept authorities after several weeks and recovers in safety at a local hospital. Now her family, with sole knowledge of where Otis resides, decide to hatch a brutal revenge plot–with unexpected consequences.
At a certain point during Tony Krantz’s second feature, Otis, I couldn’t help but think of weather reports on the evening news. You know that song and dance. The anchors keep teasing you before every commercial break, maybe a longer yet still incomplete report on the coming weather, and then in the last half of the broadcast they finally provide the real deal. Throw in some inclement weather and all the local networks have a hard-on for days. It’s all the art of selling the product of news; even something as everyday as whether it will be sunshine or rain drops. No, Otis thankfully doesn’t flow like this, but the media’s insatiable desire to create hype out of virtually anything for viewership is one of the satirical targets the film aims to lampoon. We receive snippets of a sensationalistic news program that’s like a cross between Entertainment Tonight and the FOX News Channel covering the unsolved crimes of Otis. But honestly every time we witness the plasticized female anchor preying upon the real agony of the bereaved; one can’t help but think of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994). Thankfully, writers Erik Jendresen (Krantz’s Sublime) and Thomas Schnauz (Breaking Bad) temper this observation with other larger focal points in this dark horror comedy.
Though I’m getting ahead of myself. Otis is much more than expected. It’s like ordering a taco and getting a Nachos Bell Grande instead for the same price. It’s a film that sat for weeks on my immediate “to-watch” pile with little urge to actually pop in. Yet it’s also a film packed with rapid fire comedy with satire as its lifeblood. Krantz bathes the feature in the warmly diffuse appearance of episodic television to serve as a point behind its weighty comment. Although not beholden to the format, the media’s obsession with the case, the FBI agent’s harsh bravado (think Caruso on CSI: Miami cranked to 11), and the increasing level of over-the-top ridiculousness Riley’s family gets into bleed into Otis‘s message of the hollowness of television. It’s almost like watching the bullshit of 24/7 news mixed with the bullshit of an evening’s slate on NBC taking on the very real world threat on a perverted kidnapper. That’s not to say the segments with Christopher’s sweating, stuttering Otis are realistic, but he and Riley end up being the most identifiable to reality in the end.
The media’s preoccupation with the salaciousness of evil men desiring the act of rape foremost in their deeds is used as the propellant for Otis‘s greatest bit of satire. The driving motivation for Riley’s family’s torturous vengeance is an entirely unfounded finding from the FBI agent that their loved one was raped. The resulting action, although still very comical, proves that sinking to that level can be more monstrous than the actual acts of the monster. The film does this so well that even “true” rape/revenge classics don’t resonate as much on this point. Otis is cleverly not seen killing anyone and his spats of violence seem more of a juvenile reflex over not getting what he wants than a function of sick kicks. Everyone else–from the TV, the authorities, and parents–have already judged Otis. Very reminiscent of ol’ horseface Greta Van Susteren’s pilfering of the Natalee Holloway disappearance.
Does it all work? Not quite, Otis wildly flops back-and-forth between effective comedy and satire so much that each feel independent. By the conclusion, the film itself seems tired of the mishmash and just wants to have fun. That’s easy with such great performances and the sense that different takes on the same story could still result in a very solid product. With the bold Otis, Krantz proves the combination of horror and comedy might be the best wellspring of societal comment. Definitely worth bumping up in your stack and a very worthy addition to the genre in a sea of independents.