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Review: Octavio is Dead!

June 22, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The latest from Canadian filmmaker Sook-Yin Lee, and her second feature following Year of the Carnivore in 2009, Octavio is Dead! is a unique character drama that provides an interesting exploration of gender identity, repressed sexuality, and getting to know the ghosts of those who have died.

The film follows a young woman named Tyler (Sarah Gadon), who gets laid off from her job at a bookstore in the opening scene, and lives with her unstable mother Joan (Rosanna Arquette) in Toronto.  When Tyler gets word that her estranged father Octavio (Raoul Trujillo) has passed away, and his entire estate has been left to her, she sneaks away to his Hamilton apartment.

What she finds is a filthy dump filled with books, artwork, and other mementos from his life, giving her clues as to what sort of man he was.  When she makes the decision to cut her hair short and put on one of her father’s old suits, passing herself off as male in order to get closer to a young man (Dimitri Kitsos) that she recognizes from one of his photographs, Tyler ends up discovering more about Octavio and the long buried secrets that he held.

While Octavio is Dead! could have delved deeper into certain elements of its story – there is a ghost story angle to the film that provides an interesting spiritual component, and I wish there was more focus on exploring the supernatural side of it – there are enough intriguing moments here to keep us engaged and curious to see where the story will take us next.  There is a suspenseful nature to the film, but it’s not quite a thriller, and I would say that the tone is more comparable to something like Personal Shopper.

Sook-Yin Lee does a fine job of directing the film, with a fluidity to how she handles the mix of genres and tones, while delving deeper into the themes of sexual and gender identity that have been prevalent throughout her entire body of work.  Finally, Octavio is Dead! is carried by a strong performance from Sarah Gadon, who delivers some of her finest work yet, deftly portraying both Tyler’s initial vulnerability as well as her emotional and possibly sexual awakening throughout the arc of the narrative.

Octavio is Dead! is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in Toronto.

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