The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - OCTAVIO IS DEAD! | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - OCTAVIO IS DEAD!

Egged on by her father's ghost, a young woman adopts an androgynous persona.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Sook-Yin Lee

Starring: Sarah Gadon, Raoul Trujillo, Rosanna Arquette, Dimitris Kitsos


Fair play to Octavio is Dead!, in every single narrative beat, with each curious plot twist, it strives for a sincere originality. Singularity is an increasingly rare commodity in cinema, even at the micro-budget end; why risk novelty when you could churn out the same old genre pleasures to audiences seemingly and simply eager for the reassuringly familiar (I know I am - although one of the reasons I loved the new Jurassic Park was the bizarre attempts to revitalise the formula: dinosaurs knocking about a gothic mansion is inherently absurd, but I appreciated the effort)?

Written and directed by Renaissance woman and auteur of sexual expedition, Sook Yin-Lee, the arciform plot of Octavio is Dead! requires brief explication before we discuss its kaleidoscopic themes and intent. Tyler - note the non-gender specific name - lives with her mom (Joan - Rosanna Arquette!) in hollow suburbia. Her estranged dad, the titular Octavio, dies and it turns out that he’s left his estate (a damp, bohemian inner-city apartment full of books and suchlike) to his daughter.


After some excursions into typical indie depictions of city life, Tyler gets to the apartment and finds it haunted by the ghost of her pops. The ghost encourages Tyler to present herself as androgynous and to frequent the homosexual bars, where she meets the very cute, very gay Apostolis (Dimitris Kitsos), who promptly falls in love with her, not realising that, biologically, Tyler is still a woman. And the reason Octavio never bothered with Tyler when she was growing up was because he was gay, and, no coincidence, also in love with Apostolis. Phew!

Sounds fascinating: but the problem with Octavio is Dead! is that it spends too much time getting to its perceptive and enthralling exploration of gender and sexuality. Sarah Gadon is superb as Tyler and anchors the film as it chicanes through indie-style indulgence (there’s an extended burlesque sequence which seems as if it's slipped in from 2011, for example) and, highly effective, horror beats (creepy hooded figures lurking in the shadows - yikes!).


Gadon is almost unutterably beautiful, like an oil painting come to electric life. Of course, looks ain’t everything, but in this film, they sort of are. Yin-Lee films Gadon nude, washing herself in a makeshift bath, fresh water emphasising her skin and curves: normally this sort of display would be annoying and exploitative, but Yin-Lee’s purpose is to reinforce Tyler’s essential femininity, a biological reality that comes in to unfortunate play later when, during an impromptu attempt at bumming, Tyler’s period starts, and she rushes off away from Apostolis in self-disgust.

Nevertheless, when Tyler chops her hair to a tight crop and re-evaluates her cosmetics, she achieves a shimmering androgyny, looking utterly incredible again, but in a different way. Poor Apostolis - he has no idea what’s hit him (of course, I believe that everyone has the right to be who or what they want to be, life is far too short to argue otherwise: but I had to laugh when I considered how Gadon’s, a golden person, elegance transcends traditional gender demarcations. Can’t imagine many other people would be able to pull off such a seamless, easily achieved transition!).


We root for Tyler, but the film also asks if what she’s doing is ethical, alongside questioning the daft limitations that traditional sexual roles impose (but then, I suppose, despite the packaging, beneath it all Tyler is still straight: another layer to this film’s dizzying sexual implications). And this is before we get to the icky, Electra-complex implications of Octavio’s vicarious manipulations of his kid (an aspect of the story which the film could have stood to develop further).

Alongside originality, the final act of Octavio is Dead! suggests an eventual utopia, where sexual identity and gender preconceptions eventually dissolve into a democracy of love and desire. It is a shame about the pacing of the film, as the breadth and dynamism of Yin-Lee’s ideas deserve further illumination than the crammed third act. Like Tyler herself, Octavio is Dead! takes a little too long to get its act together, but when it does, enlightenment and adventure await.

Octavio is Dead is on VOD September 18th.