VODepths: What to See (and Avoid) On Demand This Week

In this week’s minor VOD releases, Donal Logue finds small-town romance, Bruce Willis listlessly fights aliens, and dumbasses investigate conspiracies involving vampires and secret societies.

Sometime Other Than Now (VOD and select theaters March 5): A mysterious stranger drifts into a picturesque seaside hamlet, romancing the local motel owner, who’s a former big city lawyer making a fresh start in her hometown. It sounds like the set-up for a Nicholas Sparks movie, and there are some cheesy, sentimental moments here, but writer-director Dylan McCormick keeps things low-key and takes his characters’ midlife melancholy seriously. Sam (Donal Logue) hasn’t come to this small Massachusetts town to seduce Kate (Kate Walsh), but rather to track down his estranged daughter Audrey (Trieste Kelly Dunn), and the father-daughter reconciliation is nearly as important as the romance. Neither storyline heads to an easy resolution, but McCormick doesn’t fill the movie with big melodramatic confrontations, either. Some of the plotting is choppy, but the performances are consistently engaging, and the town is a pleasant place to spend a little time. Grade: B

The Dead of Night (VOD March 9): A pair of masked killers is stalking people across the New Mexico desert, but writer-director Robert Dean spends at least half the running time of this clumsily paced horror movie on dull small-town drama. The mysterious, implacable killers, who speak only in grunts and never reveal their identities or motivations, recall the deeply disturbing villains of home-invasion movies like The Strangers. But there’s minimal tension in a story that leaves those killers offscreen and unmentioned for long stretches of time, while focusing on characters who turn out to be tangential at best (Lance Henriksen dutifully shows up for a couple of scenes as the exposition-delivering owner of a local diner). The finale ratchets up the violent intensity, but all the time spent on mundane interactions still hasn’t built up characters that are worth caring about. Grade: C

Cosmic Sin (VOD and select theaters March 12): There are a lot of mentions of “tachyon interference” in this idiotic sci-fi thriller, which opens with multiple title cards covering 500 years of future history and yet rarely makes any sense. Most of that world-building is irrelevant anyway, and of course two-thirds of this supposed grand sci-fi epic takes place in nondescript corridors and command centers. Bruce Willis gives the same half-awake performance as in his many other recent B-movie roles, only this time clad in clunky space armor, as a disgraced former military commander brought back to help lead the response to an alien invasion. Fellow B-movie stalwarts Frank Grillo and Costas Mandylor play other commanders on the poorly defined mission, which moves from a military base on Earth to a slightly different-looking military base on another planet. The sci-fi gobbledygook is matched by equally inane emotional drama, clumsily inserted into the middle of battle preparations. Grade: D-

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 (VOD March 12; DVD/Blu-ray March 16): In real life, Cicada 3301 is a mysterious online puzzle that may be an alternate reality game or a recruiting tool for U.S. intelligence agencies. In director and co-writer Alan Ritchson’s movie, it’s a secret society that uses hidden clues on the dark web (created by “the IT department of the Illuminati”) to lure in people like genius hacker/bartender Connor Black (Jack Kesy). Ritchson, an actor making his directorial debut, never defines what exactly this secret society is responsible for, aside from Eyes Wide Shut-style masked orgies. The movie’s depiction of online culture is about as realistic as The Net, but not as entertaining. Ritchson awkwardly mixes in lots of questionable vulgar humor with his thriller storyline, as recounted by Connor to a secret government tribunal. Even comedian Ron Funches, as Connor’s bow tie-wearing professor best friend, can’t make this incoherent material amusing. Grade: C-

Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers (VOD March 16): A pair of doofuses hunt the supernatural in writer-director Ryan Barton-Grimley’s homage to low-budget 1980s monster movies. There’s more enthusiasm than sophistication on display, but the adventures of PTSD-afflicted security guard Hawk (Barton-Grimley) and his pacifist groundskeeper best friend Rev (Ari Schneider) are still mostly fun to watch. The title characters work at a dingy warehouse where Hawk suspects that some suspiciously gothy new tenants are actually vampires, but no one believes him. Actually defeating evil is secondary to the pair’s goofy antics, which eventually enlist a “girl writer,” Hawk’s homeless accountant neighbor, and Hawk’s former cellmate from the military prison where he spent time for staking a fellow soldier he also suspected of vampirism. Not all of the jokes land (especially the gross-out gags), but Barton-Grimley exuberantly conveys his affection for lowbrow horror-comedy, and Hawk and Rev is often sharper than its self-consciously dumb trappings would indicate. Grade: B

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of 'Las Vegas Weekly' and has written about movies and pop culture for Syfy Wire, Polygon, CBR, Film Racket, Uproxx and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.

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