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Otis Operandi: Social Satire, Strong Characters and Cool Tunes

June 17, 2009

There is a miraculous moment during Tony Krantz’s Otis when I had no clue as to what was coming next.  It was liberating, actually, as I sat in wonder waiting, like a sheep, for something to happen.  As the camera stares, blankly, at the three faces (Daniel Stern as dad, Ileanna Douglass as mom, and Justin Kusnitz as son) on the couch, I realized that I was the camera, watching, waiting breathlessly for the next move.  I could stare at these people all night;  I had fallen in love with them.

a family affair

a family affair

And herein lies the rub.  If you have read the DVD cover or seen any previews, you know already that these people commit some unspeakable acts, things that cannot be easily repressed.  But they are a family, and the surprise of Otis is that we have a movie that treads the line between horror and black comedy while focusing on character development, biting social commentary, and clever, tightly written dialogue.  Otis succeeds on multiple levels, and most impressively it succeeds as a character study of multiple characters.

First, we meet Otis, an overweight, 40 year old serial killer desperately trying to recreate his brother’s high school senior year, 1984.  When “Kim” tries to escape, Otis accidentally electrocutes her after she falls backwards into the bathtub.  He cries, “Six weeks down the drain.”  A sick yet hilarious precursor of what is to come.

Cut to our first family.  Reed is a high school senior who spends his time playing violent video games,  videotaping his half dressed sister for display on You-Tube, and selling pills at school.  He is intelligent, articulate, and sarcastic.  Riley, his sister, is beautiful, smart, and daddy’s little girl.  Dad is clearly out of his son’s league both emotionally and intellectually.  But his daughter is his pride and joy, at least that is how we see it at first.  And then we have mom.  Mom is a nurse, and clearly the family’s backbone.  She is firm with the kids and supportive of her husband.


then good luck, it finally struck...

“then good luck, it finally struck…”

Otis, unlike so many films of its type, takes the time to build real characters who in the midst of great horror and hilarity, act with logic and motive.  But Otis has only just begun, and there are so many more characters to meet. The third major player is Agent Hotchkiss, Jere Burns in a solid performance as the gum snapping, despicable, narcissistic, incompetent FBI agent who has been successful in retrieving 80% of his subjects; “well, you only retrieved 60% of your last one,” his assistant reminds him.

And our fourth player is a 24 hour news show host of The Source, or “bottom feeding grief parasites,” continually providing its viewers with up to the minute commentary of the serial killers exploits.  When Agent Hotchkiss appears on the show, I found myself involuntarily tuning out; but the bits and pieces I did catch were hilarious in their irrelevancy.  And when the host asks her final question, “What is the difference between you, a serial killer profiler, and the police, Agent Hotchkiss replies, “I wear a condom.” It struck me;  I was supposed to have tuned out.  We are all accomplices in our indifference.

Otis is a movie about us, and Tony Krantz holds a mirror up in front of his camera and shows us the wonderful dysfunction in which we imagine our successes.  There is a character in it for everyone, and by the end I wasnt exactly sure who the main character really was.  Justin Kusnitz, though, representing today’s millenial child, will surely make you rethink all you know about raising children in the digital age.

All the way to the brutal finale, Otis presents beautiful characters, classic rock songs (Come on Feel the Noise, Don’t Fear the Reaper), sentimental images (cheerleaders and trans ams), and relentless social commentary critical of all parts of our world.  There are moments of intimate beauty and pure horror, but mostly it is strangely hilarious.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 18, 2009 8:18 am

    I just watched Otis a couple of days ago. It was a great watch, and is my favorite film with Daniel Stern; an odd guy that fits the role perfectly.

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