8.3

Sharp, Amusing, Unsettling Mister Organ Documents Mundane Madness

Movies Reviews David Farrier
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Sharp, Amusing, Unsettling <i>Mister Organ</i> Documents Mundane Madness

Mister Organ is a remarkable film: A comedic horror of a documentary, a simple piece of investigative journalism descending into madness and a spotlight on the human spirit’s capacity for darkness. It’s a drama and thriller created out of real-life footage of strange-as-fiction events. It’s the story of David Farrier trying to unravel the mystery of Michael Organ, a man who burrows into people’s lives and destroys them. It isn’t rare for documentarians to put themselves in harm’s way for their work, but it’s uncanny that an investigation into a parking fine scam would open the door to a labyrinth of madness. Mister Organ represents the menace of the mundane: The everyday person that knows social rules and expectations well enough to bend or skirt them as necessary to get what they want out of other people, able to variously present a façade of sophistication or put-togetherness while needling and harassing, or assaulting and playing victim.

Spoilers are a bigger deal with fiction films, but even fictional films of good quality can’t be ruined by knowing how they go. A nonfiction film like Mister Organ is so full of surprises that I don’t want to disrupt the experience by telling them all to you, but I will say that even if I spelled it all out, it would still entertain and unsettle. The story starts with journalist-documentarian Farrier discovering an apparent wheel-clamping scam run outside of an antique shop in Ponsonby, New Zealand—anyone parked in the apparently unmarked private car park gets their wheels clamped and/or their car blocked in by a man in a van who charges them up to $760 for as little as 30 minutes of parking. Farrier’s published investigative work on the phenomenon—including diving into message boards full of complaints about the scheme—raises the story’s profile to New Zealand’s parliament, resulting in a bill which lowers the maximum allowable parking fine. After taking the signage from the soon-thereafter-abandoned antique shop, Farrier is met with criminal charges and then a lawsuit, and is drawn into the world of a cunning master manipulator seemingly capable of sowing psychosis in people.

The legal challenges stem from Michael Organ, who is at once the legal representative of antique shop owner Jillian Bashford-Evans and the proprietor of the parking security company she allegedly contracts with. The litigious Organ is a one-time boat thief, former false claimant to royalty and an apparent energy vampire who’s left a trail of abused and broken ex-roommates in his wake. He becomes the object of Farrier’s fascination—and his tormentor. Despite Bashford-Evans initially claiming not to know the proprietor of the parking security/towing company, we quickly learn they’re quite well-acquainted. It turns out that Organ, the parking security enforcer who also sends cease and desist emails on Bashford-Evans’ lawyerly behalf, had by this point left Ponsonby with her to buy a defunct bank as their new home. He agrees to meet with Farrier after their day in court. So began a five-year relationship of odd conversations, of cryptic hints about past misdeeds coded and woven into rants alongside denials.

Creating Mister Organ was a painstaking project, intended to take only two years and actually taking five. Farrier spent hours in hypnotic, droning interviews and phone conversations with Organ, a man who weaves his own reality. They’re mind-numbing traps; a kind of space-dominating verbal hypnosis, a narcissistic swallowing, a black hole dialogue. It’s incredible—barely coherent in the few-minute scenes that the hours-long interviews get cut down to, but lucid enough to give the audience a peek into the experience. The full profile of Organ and his actions is detailed through interviews with past roommates, members of former shared social circles, and the estranged loved ones of his most recent thrall—Bashford-Evans—filling in the details along with old police reports and news articles. We get insight into the ways he can be meticulous in his planning or casually cruel. He’d make a terrific film villain in an escalating thriller. But he’s a real person, and there are no psychological or psychiatric experts giving a survey diagnosis declaring his disorder.

We are free to draw conclusions about Organ’s mental wellbeing (but discouraged from doing so) in that fashion. What we’re invited to do is consider how many Michael Organs there are out in the world, appearing innocuous but later revealing their insidiousness; implanting themselves in tight-knit communities and gutting them of core members; playing with people’s lives for no apparent reason except amusement and entitlement; thriving materially off other people’s labor and luck. The music throughout helps maintain the eerie vibe. Farrier’s natural affinity for expressing anguish and anxiety through cringes and grimaces—as seen in Dark Tourist—lends to the emotional impact. The interviews with those Organ has affected give Mister Organ more weight, imploring us not just to judge an individual but to look at the consequences of patterns of action, to see how they can affect others.

Part of Mister Organ’s thrill ride is the race against time: We wonder if Farrier can survive the experience, can gain some insight into Organ’s desires and drive, before the time he spends with Organ drives him insane. In the end, closure isn’t completely had, because it’s not fiction—it’s a documentary of recent events focused mostly on still-living people. That authenticity contributes to both its overt amusement and fascination as well as its underlying terror: We’re reminded that there are people like Organ all around us. Some run conglomerates. Some aspire to run countries. Some simply exist in the everyday lives of our friends and ourselves, self-assured and self-righteous, isolating victims and destroying communities.

Director: David Farrier
Release Date: October 24, 2022 (Philadelphia Film Festival)


Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer with an MA in history, who loves videogames, film, TV, and sports, and dreams of liberation. He can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.