In this week’s minor VOD releases, a syrup factory and a bridge disrupt settled rural life, and wronged women seek revenge against Nazis and sex traffickers.
Hell Hath No Fury (Select theaters November 5; VOD November 9): Prolific B-movie action director Jesse V. Johnson branches out with this World War II-set thriller about compromised battlefield morality. Nina Bergman gives an intense and captivating performance as Marie DuJardin, a member of the French Resistance who was so deep undercover in her role as a Nazi commander’s mistress that even her own government mistook her for a genuine traitor. As the Allies drive the Nazis out of France in 1944, Marie is saved from a harsh fate by promising the American Major Maitland (Louis Mandylor) that she can lead him and his men to hidden Nazi gold. Most of Hell Hath No Fury takes place in a secluded cemetery where the gold is buried, and it’s a lot talkier than the typical Johnson movie. The characters are believably battle-hardened and weary, and their bitter exchanges do more than just mark time until the visceral, action-filled climax. Grade: B
Lair (VOD November 9): Does this sound like it would hold up in court? Shady, opportunistic ghost hunter Steven Caramore (Corey Johnson) learns that his business partner, who’s about to be tried for the murder of his wife and son, claims that one of their supposedly possessed artifacts is actually responsible for the horrific acts. To test this theory and potentially prove his friend’s innocence, Steven places the artifact in a vacant apartment he owns, rents out the apartment to an unsuspecting family, then uses hidden cameras to record what happens. That convoluted set-up is one of many missteps in writer-director Adam Ethan Crow’s feature debut. The unscrupulous Steven spends most of the movie making insensitive quips to his unwitting victims, and then acting shocked when things start to go bad. There are some passable haunted-house scares, but the characters behave so nonsensically that they’re impossible to care about, and the pacing is as disjointed and confusing as the protagonist’s legal strategy. Grade: C-
Double Walker (VOD and select theaters November 12): A little girl dies under questionable circumstances and then returns as a ghost to take vengeance on those responsible, but for some reason she is now an alluring adult woman (played by producer/co-writer Sylvie Mix). The movie itself sexualizes this young victim of men who are being punished for sexualizing underage women, and the elliptical structure doesn’t help to clarify the filmmakers’ intent. The nameless ghost isn’t just an agent of revenge; she also engages in a chaste but still misguided romance with a well-meaning movie theater owner, who has no idea that he’s flirting with the equivalent of a child. The circular story keeps returning to the same opaque musings and plot points, without illuminating anything about the girl’s life or the people she left behind. Mix and director/co-writer Colin West seem to be aiming for the existential melancholy of something like A Ghost Story, but they end up with icky exploitation. Grade: C
Soulmates (VOD and select theaters November 12): One character makes a throwaway joke that lifelong best friends Sam (Alexandra Case) and Jess (Stephanie Lynn) should be getting engaged to each other, rather than Jess getting engaged to bland hunk Landon (Mark Famiglietti), and that would have been a much more entertaining and rewarding direction for this cloying comedy to take. But the chipper Hallmark-style storytelling doesn’t allow room for anything that bold or challenging. Landon, of course, is a big-city corporate type who comes to small-town Vermont as an agent of Big Syrup, heading up a new factory that threatens to put local family farms out of business. The primary conflict, though, is between Jess and Sam, who resents her best friend for finding love and upending their established dynamic. The jokes are corny, the plotting is clumsy and obvious, the characters are annoying, and the eventual resolution (for both the main characters and the town as a whole) is rushed and unconvincing. Grade: C
They Say Nothing Stays the Same (VOD and select theaters November 12): Veteran Japanese actor Joe Odagiri makes his feature writing and directing debut with this quiet, contemplative character study about a lonely boatman facing the inevitable march of progress. Around the turn of the 20th century, Toichi (Akira Emoto) spends his days taking people back and forth across the same stretch of river. He lives in a crude hovel and eats what he can catch in the river, but he seems content, chatting with local villagers and occasional visitors from the city. The main topic of conversation, though, is the bridge being erected a short distance away, which is certain to put Toichi out of business. Surreal interludes attempt to explore Toichi’s inner anguish, and he also connects with a mysterious girl he pulls out of the river. Gorgeously shot by renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Odagiri’s film is most affecting at its most modest, in the small moments of connection between Toichi and his passengers. Grade: B