“My name is Otto Baxter and I’ve been filmed by other people since I was a baby,” the titular filmmaker with Down Syndrome announces at the beginning of Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story. The documentary, directed by Peter Beard and Bruce Fletcher, follows Otto’s journey in making his very first short film, titled The Puppet Asylum.
This isn’t Beard and Fletcher’s first time filming Otto; the pair made a BBC Three documentary out of Otto’s quest to lose his virginity, cheekily titled Otto: Love, Lust and Las Vegas. That same cheekiness courses through the veins of Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story and Otto is often seen and heard playfully joking around with his directors.
The documentary begins with some archive footage from years past when people were adamant disabled people shouldn’t be allowed to attend school. Otto’s adoptive mother Lucy is shown as a woman who tirelessly, selflessly fought for his son’s rights in a world that did its best to deny them to him.
The prevalent theme in the documentary is Otto’s desire to reclaim his own narrative and come to terms with his past. He plans on doing this through The Puppet Asylum, a pleasantly unhinged combo of musical numbers and straight-up horror. To his credit, Otto has managed to cast notable British actors such as MyAnna Buring and Adeel Akhtar in his film, but the end result, which will accompany the documentary, is quite a ride, in the best way possible.
Horror, of course, feels like a natural outlet for Otto to work through his past. A genre that has always welcomed other-ness and in which kindred spirits have found solace, The Puppet Asylum feels equally powerful and profound, even in its sillier moments.
Beard and Fletcher carefully navigate the world and film set around Otto so as to not mess with his authority and ownership. Lucy becomes a central figure in Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story, as do Otto’s tangled feelings around his biological parents, who failed to send him birthday and Christmas cards.
Otto also ponders what happens when Lucy inevitably dies; will he be institutionalised? What would he do if he could exact revenge on those who have wronged him? All of these themes make it into The Puppet Asylum and in a quietly devastating scene, Otto directs the actress playing a version of his biological mother about why she abandoned him. Although Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story never becomes a documentary about Down Syndrome, it certainly asks some potent questions about Otto’s future.
Otto faces several issues during the production of The Puppet Asylum. The pandemic gets in the way of the film, as does the lack of funds. Later, Otto is reminded that his outgoing jokes and blatant flirting could be seen as harassment, and one of the performers ends up having an intense chat with Lucy.
Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story has a lot of love for the art and craft of filmmaking, but it’s Otto’s resilience and artistic flair that really make this documentary fly. Peter Beard and Bruce Fletcher’s documentary is a loving tribute to a cult horror director in the making.
Otto Baxter: Not A F***ing Horror Story is in UK cinemas 1 September and will be available to stream on NOW from 23 September.