There’s a lot of angst in these new low-profile VOD releases – from a man who may have killed his wife to a woman who may have caused a fatal car accident – but neither the characters nor the audience is getting much satisfaction.
Killed My Wife (VOD September 11) This cheesy South Korean thriller could have been an episode of a TV police procedural, with its warmed-over plot about a man who wakes up from a night of blackout drinking to discover that his wife has been murdered. Did he do it? The answer to that question involves numerous red herrings and meandering, interwoven flashbacks, none of which is particularly interesting. Protagonist Jeong-ho (Lee Si-eon) makes a series of dumb decisions as he tries to piece together what happened the previous night, and the more the movie reveals about his life (he’s a gambling addict in debt to a local loan shark and has been lying about losing his job), the less sympathetic he becomes. The detective on the case is almost comically single-minded, and the only bright spot in the cast is Seo Ji-young as Ms. Kim, the delightfully amoral gangster Jeong-ho owes money to. Grade: C
Lost Girls & Love Hotels (VOD September 18) The underrated Alexandra Daddario gives her all to the lead performance in this moody drama based on Catherine Hanrahan’s 2006 novel, but it’s not quite enough to overcome the wispy, ponderous tone. Margaret (Daddario) delivers periodic portentous narration as an American living in Tokyo and working with flight attendants on their English skills. She spends her free time drinking and picking up strange men to take her to love hotels, the automated short-term room rentals used for anonymous sexual liaisons. Margaret is clearly a lost soul, but the movie never sufficiently develops her character, and she remains a cipher even as she falls in love with Japanese gangster Kazu (Takehiro Hira). Director William Olsson effectively captures the neon-soaked energy of the city, but the copious sex scenes come off as misguided attempts at edgy provocation, and rather than empowering its main character, the movie disingenuously equates kinkiness with self-destructiveness. Grade: C+
Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs (VOD September 18; DVD/Blu-ray September 22) You have to wonder what celebrities think they’re getting into when they sign up for these off-brand animated movies. Maybe Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Claflin, Jim Rash, Gina Gershon, and Patrick Warburton expected this South Korea-based production to be the next Shrek, or at least the next Hoodwinked!, but instead they’ve ended up in a movie that feels like its plot, setting, and dialogue have been run back and forth several times through a translation algorithm. There’s a weird strain of fat-shaming to the story of how Snow White (Moretz) transformed from a short, stout, chubby girl into a lithe, alluring, statuesque beauty by a pair of magical shoes before teaming up with seven former warriors (themselves cursed to look like stumpy green dwarves) to take down the requisite evil queen (Gershon). Characters say things like “Hashtag blessed” and “You just got dwarfed,” and the soundtrack repeats the same three robotic-sounding pop ballads over and over. Grade: D+
Teenage Badass (VOD and DVD September 18) There’s not a lot of badassery in Grant McCord’s wan comedy about a squabbling rock band in 2006 Phoenix. The only teenager in the cast is 19-year-old Brad (Mcabe Gregg), who anticipates his rock star dreams coming true when he joins the awkwardly named Stylo and the Murder Dogs. With an affable drummer as its main character and a nostalgic fondness for a bygone musical scene, this could have been the emo version of That Thing You Do! But it’s full of annoying, unpleasant characters, especially Stylo frontman Kirk (Evan Ultra), a bully who treats everyone around him with contempt, all in the service of some pretty mediocre songs. It’s the kind of movie that substitutes characters being jerks to each other for actual humor, and the period setting is only good for a half-hearted cameo from Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins. Grade: C
The Swerve (VOD September 22) Suburban wife and mother Holly (Azura Skye) is quietly going mad, although no one around her seems to notice. Her milquetoast middle-manager husband is cheating on her, her two dickhead teenage sons barely acknowledge her existence, and her boozy sister (Ashley Bell) relishes in pushing her buttons. Even the mice infesting her home seem to be taunting her. Holly’s breakdown proceeds extremely slowly until the movie’s final moments, and writer-director Dean Kapsalis is so determined to underplay certain elements (including the late-night car accident that gives the movie its title) that it’s tough to get a handle on how far gone Holly really is. But Skye gives an intense, evocative performance that conveys the character’s anguish, whether she’s pursuing a doomed affair with a student at the high school where she teaches, or just trying to get her kids to share the damn bathroom. Grade: B-