In this week’s low-profile VOD releases, doomed characters attempt to escape from a cult compound, a Christian reformatory, and a haunted replica of the Titanic.
Titanic 666 (Tubi April 15): In 2010, mockbuster factory The Asylum released Titanic II, a knock-off disaster movie set on a luxury ocean liner christened Titanic II. Twelve years later, The Asylum has produced a knock-off horror movie set on a luxury ocean liner christened Titanic III, making this a stealth sequel to Titanic II. That ridiculous bit of continuity is bolder than anything that’s actually in the movie, which is a slow, dull haunted-ship story that takes far too long to get to its meager terrors. Lydia Hearst finds the right campy tone as a descendant of one of the original Titanic victims who summons their spirits to curse this shameless exploitation of their memories, and AnnaLynne McCord is fun to watch as a narcissistic influencer who exits the movie too early. But the ghosts themselves are tame, poorly rendered apparitions, and the valiant, self-sacrificing captain (Keesha Sharp) makes for a weak protagonist as the voyage predictably devolves into chaos. Grade: C-
Children of Sin (VOD April 22): Prolific regional horror filmmaker Christopher Wesley Moore delivers an awkward mix of family drama and slasher movie in this stilted, clumsily paced film. The first half-hour is a plodding domestic chamber piece about teen siblings dealing with a new stepfather who’s an abusive religious fundamentalist. The movie perks up when he sends the pair to a Christian reformatory, run by an obviously demented headmistress (Jo-Ann Robinson). Robinson is enjoyably unhinged as the malevolent woman of God, whose homicidal methods of discipline would definitely not be Jesus-approved. But the rest of the performances are terrible, and it’s tough to care whether these whiny idiots will get offed by their sinister captor. Moore makes broad, obvious points about the evils of religious repression, combined with sloppy kills and a complete lack of suspense. The character motivations are inconsistent, and the story drags on for much longer than its simplistic conflict warrants. Grade: D+
Sexual Drive (VOD and virtual cinema April 22): Japanese writer-director Kôta Yoshida delves into some peculiar sexual proclivities in this anthology-style collection of three stories that explore the connection between eroticism and food. The common factor is a trickster-like figure named Kurita (Tateto Serizawa), who enters the lives of the various characters and messes with their sexual expectations and identities. It’s not clear whether he’s meant to be the same person each time, or just an avatar of repressed guilt and desire. The strongest story is the tense middle segment, which downplays the food angle and recalls David Cronenberg’s Crash, with Kurita posing as a masochist who really, really wants his childhood bully to run him over with her car. The psychological dynamics in the other two stories are less compelling, but all three are weird, daring, and sometimes fascinatingly gross, full of slurping and squelching as the characters prepare and consume food. It’s not exactly sexy, but it’s hard to turn away from. Grade: B
The Aviary (VOD and select theaters April 29): Mostly a two-hander between stars Malin Akerman and Lorenza Izzo, The Aviary creates an entire creepy world just via the main characters’ conversations. They’re walking through the New Mexico desert after having escaped the compound of the titular cult, run by a sweater-wearing guru named Seth (Chris Messina). As they flee toward civilization and freedom, they experience hallucinations and visions, which may be why they seem unable to make any progress. Are they losing touch with reality, or has Seth so thoroughly brainwashed them that they’re subconsciously sabotaging their own efforts? First-time writer-directors Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite keep most of the answers tantalizingly vague, although that means the middle portion of the movie is full of repetitive arguments and accusations. Cullari and Raite don’t achieve the eerie power of indie cult thrillers like Faults or Sound of My Voice, but they sustain a sense of dread and unease all the way through Seth’s chilling final line. Grade: B
In a New York Minute (VOD May 3): Set among the Chinese immigrant community in New York City, writer-director Ximan Li’s debut feature follows three women all struggling in their romantic lives. The semi-intersecting stories are a bit thin on their own, but taken together, they offer a rewarding portrayal of women pulled in multiple directions, balancing cultural, generational, and class differences. Amy (Amy Chang) is a first-generation American food writer trying to please her traditional parents while hiding her true self. Angel (Yi Liu) is a Chinese actress married to an older American businessman but caught up in a torrid affair. Nina (Celia Au) is a young immigrant secretly working as an escort to save money to get away from her judgmental parents. All three stars give strong, emotionally resonant performances, even as the movie occasionally dips into cheesy melodrama. Li aims for Wong Kar-wai ethereal lyricism, and too often lands closer to soap opera, but the characters’ lives remain worth following. Grade: B-