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‘Mister Organ’ Review: Meet the Most Dangerously Annoying Man in New Zealand

Fantastic Fest: The director of "Tickled" returns with another documentary that starts with a kooky subject before spiraling into darkness.

Mister Organ

“Mister Organ”

Journalist and filmmaker David Farrier — who, in a nod to the homespun modesty of his documentaries, only refers to himself as the former onscreen — has a certain affinity for sinister weirdos. “Tickled” and the new “Mister Organ” reflect a warm but affectless man who’s compelled by the dark underbellies of seemingly benign people and institutions, and can’t help but get sucked into their shady personal dramas. At this point in his career, Farrier seems like a kid who keeps getting his head stuck between the balusters of a staircase because he wants to make a spectacle of pulling it out.

That isn’t to say his movies aren’t enjoyable, or their subjects unworthy of the scrutiny Farrier gives them, only that it keeps getting harder to shake the suspicion that he’s digging the same rabbit holes that he films himself falling down. Farrier’s latest feature — a characteristically first-person exercise that finds him “stumbling into” a story that consumes several years of his life for our amusement — begins with some parking mishegoss at an Auckland antiques store before unraveling into an intimate portrait of the toxic narcissist who’s terrorized half of New Zealand.

The man’s name is Michael Organ, and by the time Farrier says that “you pay a soul tax for every minute you spend with him,” this twisty documentary has proven those words true beyond a shadow of a doubt. But when Farrier goes on to lament that “I’m trapped with him because I have to make a film, right?,” I wasn’t immediately sure if it was meant to be a rhetorical question. The sunk-cost fallacy notwithstanding, Farrier doesn’t have to make a film about Organ (whatever moral dimension there might be to sharing this story in the interest of Organ’s future victims, this movie is a bit too self-absorbed to meaningfully flesh it out).

While Farrier is extremely likable — and his subject the polar opposite of that in every possible way — the documentary he’s made about Organ inadvertently complicates the matter of who is trapped with who, or if anyone is trapped at all. The finished product often feels more like watching a strained pas de deux than it does someone latching onto their prey. That can be a compelling dynamic in its own right (and a revelatory way of exposing how each man works towards their very different ends), but the ambiguousness also dampens the project’s journalistic value, occasionally to the point that “Mister Organ” plays less like a riveting piece of investigative reportage than it does like a deserving hit-piece about some dangerously annoying guy Farrier knows, dislikes for good reason, and really wants you to hate too.

Sympathy for Mister Organ is never on the menu, but the more we learn about him, the less special he becomes. That’s why Farrier’s movie is most compelling in the early going, when its namesake remains a mystery shrouded in ridiculousness. It all starts when Jillian Bashford, the owner of Bashford Antiques, hires her “lawyer” — Michael Organ — to start aggressively clamping any of the cars that are parked outside of her store overnight and charging their owners hundreds of dollars to get the boots removed. It’s exactly the kind of kooky, low-key criminality that Farrier lives for, and so he decides to start digging. “Five years ago I started writing what I thought would be a very simple, quirky story,” the filmmaker intones over the voiceover track, “but here I am half a decade later still trying to make sense of it all.”

Farrier doesn’t sound too disappointed about that, but it’s not like everything has gone according to plan. I’m sure he was happy to get the clamping law changed (which inspired Bashford to close her store in response), but hindsight being 20/20, he probably regrets stealing the Bashford Antiques sign after it went out of business. That’s when Organ sued him for theft — that’s when Organ latched onto Farrier’s life like a parasite and refused to let go, even after the filmmaker started to return the favor.

The details of Organ’s dealings aren’t particularly interesting — there’s something about a stolen boat and a string of angry ex-roommates and even the occasional mention of a local terrorist — but the specifics are never that important to a delusional narcissist like him. What Farrier knows from the start, but dances around for all too long, is that Organ is a black hole.

He only wants to trap people in the reality that he creates so that he can toy with (and torment) them there. He talks and he talks and he talks, for hours on end if you’ll let him. He tells you what you want to hear, and blames other people (in wildly contrived ways) for all of the problems that he’s caused himself. He threatens you one second, and then acts like he’s your best friend the next. If Organ weren’t some random “fuckwit who bores people to death until they jump off a building,” as one of Farrier’s interviewees describes him, he could probably have a career in politics.

Frequently intriguing — if never quite as tense as Lachlan Anderson’s pulse-pounding electronic score might want you to believe — “Mister Organ” works best as a first-hand forensic analysis of what it’s like when a sociopath locks their sights on you. Whatever his role in enabling (or at least encouraging) Organ’s behavior, the resolutely sane Farrier is a perfect foil for his latest nemesis; the bit in which Organ reveals that he has a key to Farrier’s house is an incredible study of derangement and reasonability colliding on camera.

Even scarier and more compelling are the chapters of Organ’s life that only survive as tragic anecdotes — the stories about the people who were less accommodating to him than Bashford, or less resistant to him than Farrier. For the most part, Organ comes off as a compulsively obnoxious charlatan who manipulates people for sport and lives free of the consequences that Farrier’s documentary is hoping to confront him with. In the all too brief moments when we hear from his past victims, however (one of whom is no longer alive to share his story), “Mister Organ” offers a somewhat lucid glimpse of the danger that people like him pose to the public. If only it didn’t feel like Farrier himself were standing on the outside looking in, perhaps “Mister Organ” could have offered more than just a glimpse.

Grade: C+

“Mister Organ” premiered at Fantastic Fest 2022. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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