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

In this week’s low-profile VOD releases, Bigfoot and an evil stuffed toy attack, while teenagers come of age via hiking and skateboarding. 

15 Things You Didn’t Know About Bigfoot (#1 Will Blow Your Mind) (VOD and select theaters May 7): Director Zach Lamplugh nails the hipster posturing of Vice-style journalism in this amusing mockumentary. Brian (Brian Emond) is a disgruntled reporter for the Vice-like Compound, who wishes he were working for PBS instead. His latest assignment involves heading into the Georgia woods to tag along with a supposed Bigfoot expert (Jeffrey Stephenson). Of course, they get lost, and they encounter dangers that have nothing to do with sasquatches. Lamplugh mixes deadpan humor (including spot-on parodies of various Vice standbys) with some surprisingly solid suspense, and the movie lands somewhere between an episode of Documentary Now! and The Blair Witch Project. The joke eventually wears thin, and the later plot developments sometimes feel like padding, but Lamplugh throws in enough callbacks and goofy supporting characters to endearingly tie the movie together. Grade: B

Benny Loves You (Select theaters May 7; VOD May 11; Blu-ray June 8): It’s appropriate that the main character of writer-director Karl Holt’s horror comedy works at a toy company, because there’s a lot of merchandising potential in its titular homicidal plush toy. Jack (Holt) is a middle-aged sad sack whose only friend is his childhood toy Benny. Tossed aside as Jack cleans out his family home, Benny magically comes to life, filled with rage against anyone who wrongs his best friend. He’s like a cross between Chucky and Ted, and the combination of his childlike glee with his violent tendencies is a consistent source of absurdist humor. The over-the-top tone recalls early Peter Jackson movies, and Holt never holds back on the blood and gore. Benny Loves You is more silly than clever, and its human characters are as cartoonish as the murderous stuffed animal. They all fit in perfectly with Holt’s twisted yet strangely upbeat vision. Grade: B

Antidote (VOD and DVD May 11): Poor Ashlynn Yennie, always getting abducted by mad scientists for sadistic medical experiments. The Human Centipede star plays Sharyn, who goes into the hospital for an emergency appendectomy and wakes up post-surgery in a mysterious facility run by the sinister Dr. Hellenbach (Louis Mandylor). A mix of Hannibal Lecter and Jigsaw, Dr. Hellenbach performs painful procedures that he self-righteously claims are for the patients’ moral benefit, while asking them probing questions about their past regrets. Sharyn and her fellow inmates are repeatedly mutilated and then healed by an apparent miracle drug. B-movie stalwart Mandylor brings some menacing glee to the patronizing villain, and Yennie has plenty of experience at running and screaming. Director Peter Daskaloff builds some decent tension at first, but the plot soon turns repetitive, culminating in one of the most overused and obvious twists in horror (there’s, um, a clue in the doctor’s name), complete with terrible special effects. Grade: C

What Lies West (VOD and DVD May 11): It takes a bit too long for the main characters in writer-director Jessica Ellis’ debut feature to actually head toward what lies west, but the journey is generally worth taking. The title refers to a hiking trip from Santa Rosa, California, to the Pacific Ocean, planned by 16-year-old Chloe (Chloe Moore) for herself and her babysitter Nicolette (Nicolette Ellis). Chloe’s mom (Anna Peterson) is intensely overprotective, not willing to take the slightest risk with her child. Recent college graduate Nicolette needs the money, so she accepts the babysitting gig, and of course the initially antagonistic young women eventually form a genuine bond. Nicolette’s character arc, which involves getting over an ex and learning to believe in her dreams, is more satisfying than Chloe’s, as she reconciles with her mom. But the charming leads have easygoing chemistry, and they make for amiable traveling companions for 80 minutes or so. Grade: B-

North Hollywood (VOD May 14): It’s not surprising that this is the first narrative feature from skate-video impresario Mikey Alfred and his Illegal Civ lifestyle/production company. The skating is more effective than the drama, a disjointed coming-of-age story about a teenager whose dad wants him to straighten up and focus on his future, while he just wants to skate, man. Michael (Ryder McLaughlin) dreams of becoming a pro skateboarder, although he only has a vague strategy for getting there. His construction worker dad (Vince Vaughn) keeps hounding him about college applications, but he’s more focused on his prospective girlfriend (Miranda Cosgrove) and a couple of local pros he looks up to. The interpersonal drama is mostly inert, and the editing is choppy, jumping haphazardly from one narrative beat to another. Alfred knows how to shoot skateboarders, though, and the languid hangout vibe works better than the clumsy storytelling. Grade: C+

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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