The terrors of this week’s low-profile VOD releases include a mysterious B-movie, a teen cult leader, a doomed flight, and a dead-eyed baby T. rex.
Bad Influence (Tubi May 20): This Lifetime-style Tubi original movie would have probably been 50 percent better if it had been 50 percent campier. Kayleigh Shikanai proves herself a master of devious facial expressions as Violet, the alluring bad girl who takes new high school classmate Lily (Devin Cecchetto) under her wing. Violet and her friends blur the line between clique and cult with their devotion to an underground novel that Lily’s college-professor mom (Jennie Garth) compares to the works of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche. Lily proves remarkably easy to corrupt, and soon she’s sassing her mom and engaging in one of cinema’s most awkward-looking threesomes. The novel’s shadowy origins and worldview add a bit of intrigue to a basic teens-gone-bad story, but this bland, plodding movie fails to capitalize on its unique perspective. Shikanai gives the only lively performance, and she doesn’t get to unleash Violet’s true megalomaniacal potential until the movie’s almost over. Grade: C-
Straight to VHS (VOD and DVD May 17): Director Emilio Silva Torres presents a tantalizing mystery at the beginning of this documentary, showing clips from a bonkers-looking shot-on-video movie from 1988 called Act of Violence in a Young Journalist. It’s an object of cult fascination in Torres’ native Uruguay—a strange, disjointed work of outsider art that popped up in the country’s video stores during a boom in local home video releases. The filmmakers and fans that Torres interviews talk in glowing terms about the movie by mysterious filmmaker Manuel Lamas, even comparing him to the likes of Ingmar Bergman and Abbas Kiarostami. But Torres’ follow-through is lacking, and the documentary is filled with dead ends as Torres fails to track down many of the people associated with Lamas and his film. Torres eventually resorts to his own strange, disjointed sequences, suggesting that he’s somehow haunted by this cursed movie. That may capture the spirit of Lamas’ work, but it’s no substitute for concrete details. Grade: B
Trip (VOD May 20): Somewhere in this ugly-looking micro-budget horror movie is a surprisingly effective drama about grief, but it’s overwhelmed by shoddy aesthetics and paranormal nonsense. Writer-director Neil McCay starts out almost immediately with the gruesome image of a teenage girl who has killed herself by cutting out her own eyes, but he then tones down the horror for a little while, focusing on how the girl’s mother Ally (Akasha Villalobos) is coping with her daughter’s death. Villalobos gives a strong performance as a woman whose life has completely fallen apart, so it makes sense when Ally turns to an unorthodox therapist who offers her a hallucinogenic drug that will supposedly allow her to connect with her dead daughter. The entire movie takes place inside a poorly lit house, and the more that McCay depicts the supernatural, the less convincing it is. Ally’s emotions are harrowing enough that the convoluted demonic mythology only gets in the way. Grade: C-
Jurassic Tale (VOD May 31): A pair of kids find an ancient dinosaur egg that hatches a baby Tyrannosaurus rex, and their main focus seems to be how they can use the little guy to reunite their divorced parents. It’s slightly refreshing to see this kind of cheap throwaway use terrible practical effects instead of terrible CGI to depict its central creature, but the dinosaur (whom the kids call Caesar) is a stiff-looking puppet that has to be carried by the actors whenever it moves from one place to another onscreen. The threats to Caesar involving a big-game hunter named Kraven (Alan Ambruso) and his bumbling assistants are stock family-movie shenanigans with no sense of peril, either for Caesar or for the human characters. There are mild, kid-friendly jokes about pizza and dinosaur poop, but the humor is as flat as the suspense, clumsily delivered by the overeager actors. The feel-good resolution involves releasing a giant prehistoric killer into the wild, so even the lesson-learning is questionable. Grade: D+
Row 19 (VOD and DVD/Blu-ray May 31): Twenty years after surviving a plane crash, Katerina (Svetlana Ivanova) returns to the skies, traveling with her young daughter. Katerina herself was just a child when she walked away from a wreck that killed everyone else onboard, so she’s understandably nervous. There’s something off about the sparsely populated overnight flight, and Katerina starts having disturbing visions of her childhood, as well as of a strange old woman who was seated behind her before the crash. Nearly all of Row 19 feels like the build-up for the real horrors to come, as other passengers experience unexplained accidents, and Katerina has more vague premonitions. But the 78-minute movie remains in neutral for most of its running time, before culminating in a tired, nonsensical twist that makes the preceding events largely irrelevant. Director Alexander Babaev creates a handful of creepy images, and the Russian production is slick and professional, occasionally masking how dramatically inert it is. Grade: C-