This week’s low-profile VOD releases conjure up from the depths a sasquatch, a ghost in a sweater, a pair of witches, and a lost Lea Thompson movie.
Ten Tricks (VOD and Fandor September 27): Shot in 2006 and stuck in limbo (film festivals aside) ever since, writer-director Richard Pagano’s adaptation of his stage play comes off more like a series of acting exercises than a cohesive narrative. Lea Thompson stars as Grace, the madam of an apparently legal brothel that may be adjacent to a small theater. All of the details are inconsistent, and it doesn’t help that the male actors each play multiple roles (sometimes with questionable accents), making it tough to tell the characters apart. Grace is on a mission to get pregnant, while her employees entertain a series of offbeat clients, and an increasingly irate magician performs for an indifferent audience. Pagano shoots in murky black and white, broken up by silent movie-style intertitles, but it just looks cheap rather than old-fashioned. Thompson brings occasional pathos to the floundering Grace, but the other performances are as underwhelming and half-baked as the plot. Grade: C
After She Died (VOD September 30): What starts out as a glum family drama about a teenager grieving the loss of her mother slowly turns into a chaotic horror freakout, piling on the weirdness and losing the emotional threads in the process. Recent high school graduate Jen (Liliana Ritchie) is alarmed when her father introduces his new girlfriend Florence, who’s a dead ringer for Jen’s late mom (Vanessa Madrid plays both parts). The supernatural elements could be a metaphor for the grieving process, but writer-director Jack Dignan clutters up the movie with incomprehensible mythology about a strange man (or demon?) in the nearby woods, who maybe resurrects people or creates undead copies of them. There are also subplots about Jen’s friends undergoing their own grieving and/or resurrection experiences, which never quite come into focus. Both Jen and the movie eventually lose sight of reality altogether, but by then it’s tough to care about how any of this turns out. Grade: C-
The Wild Man (VOD September 30): A trio of film students investigate a string of missing girls in a small Florida town in what seems at first like a standard (and dull) found-footage movie. Townspeople talk about the legend of the “wild man” or skunk ape, a primate cryptid that may be responsible for the abductions. The filmmakers head into the woods with a self-proclaimed skunk ape hunter, where the story goes fully off the rails, swerving into a third act involving vast conspiracies and a secret government facility. Director Ryan Justice doesn’t have the resources or the creativity to handle his movie’s jarring shifts in tone and perspective, and he can’t even keep the found-footage approach on track. B-movie stalwart Michael Paré shows up briefly to glower half-heartedly as a commander at the threadbare military base, and the skunk ape itself is a shoddy guy-in-a-suit creation. Justice teases grand revelations, then barely manages a whimper. Grade: C-
Two Witches (Arrow October 1; DVD/Blu-ray October 17): The second witch in writer-director Pierre Tsigaridis’ debut feature is more entertaining than the first, making this horror diptych a little lopsided. In the first chapter, an expectant mother is convinced that a mysterious old woman has cursed her, and when she and her husband go to visit her husband’s friends, they experience terrifying visions and violent outbursts. It’s mostly a series of surreal but incoherent images, with the actors contorting their faces in various gruesome configurations. The second chapter stars Rebekah Kennedy as the first witch’s granddaughter, who uses her infernal abilities to torment her roommate (Kristina Klebe). Kennedy brings sinister glee to her performance, and while this section is nearly as nonsensical as the first, it’s livelier and more fun, loosely tying the narrative threads together. Tsigaridis ends the movie with a “To be continued” and a post-credits scene, indicating more witchiness to come, which could be welcome as long as it includes Kennedy. Grade: B-
Phantom Project (VOD and select theaters October 4): When Pablo’s roommate moves out, he leaves behind some plants, a dog, and a haunted cardigan. Pablo (Juan Cano) gets ghosted in multiple ways, since his ex-roommate won’t return his calls, and Pablo is stuck figuring out what to do with the leftover items. The plants and the dog prove more burdensome than the ghost, which is just an incidental presence in this low-key dramedy about urban creatives in Chile. Pablo is an aspiring actor who’s still getting over a break-up with his YouTuber boyfriend, and his friends and associates have their own small-scale issues to deal with. Writer-director Roberto Doveris jumps haphazardly between characters and storylines, making the movie feel disjointed and unfinished. The ghost, too, floats aimlessly through the movie, represented in a visually striking manner as sketchy bits of hand-drawn animation. Individual moments are insightful and amusing, but the overall result is wispy and dissatisfying. Grade: C+