This week’s minor VOD releases travel from 1920s Vienna to a fairy-tale version of Norway, with stops in the woods for hapless horror-movie victims to get murdered.
Hinterland (VOD October 7): Virtual sets are great for sci-fi and fantasy, but what about historical dramas? This Austrian thriller gives a mixed answer to that question, although it works more often than not. The simulated environment allows director Stefan Ruzowitzky to create his own unique version of 1920 Vienna, without having to work around modern obstructions. He takes influence from German expressionism to depict buildings that exist at skewed angles, removed just enough from reality to be subconsciously unsettling. Former military commander Peter Perg (Murathan Muslu) returns to the city after two years in a Russian POW camp, only to face hostility toward World War I veterans. He attempts to resume his job as a police detective, which puts him on the trail of a killer targeting his comrades. The murder mystery is engrossing, and the examination of postwar tension is blunt but powerful. The characters sometimes look like they’re walking through museum exhibits, but most of the movie is gritty and immersive. Grade: B+
Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2 (VOD October 11): Nobody in this horror franchise pays attention to the warning in the title, although there is slightly less fucking in the woods in this sequel. The first movie was so full of sex and nudity that it could have qualified as softcore porn, but director and co-writer Shawn Burkett tones things down a bit here. Lone survivor Jane (Brittany Blanton) killed the deadly wilderness creature at the end of the 2016 original, but it’s now able to infect humans via its parasitical appendages, turning them into zombie-like killers. The parasites take their time, though, allowing for plenty of fornication among the annoying staffers who are getting a summer camp ready for the season. Burkett pads the running time with dull banter and awkward sex scenes, leading up to some underwhelming gore effects. There’s no resolution, just a tease for the inevitable Don’t Fuck in the Woods 3. Maybe by then, someone will learn their lesson. Grade: D+
Guardians of Time (VOD and DVD October 11): Four young cousins discover a portal to a mystical realm while staying at their grandfather’s estate in this jumbled Chronicles of Narnia rip-off. The teen and tween girls learn that they are the prophesied “Guardians of Time” in a world called Keoherus, a sort of all-purpose land of the lost that’s home to dinosaurs, Atlantis, and Amelia Earhart (all mostly offscreen). They have to collect three crystals to power a magical doodad to send them home, although the rules and structure of this world are often unclear. They wander through poorly realized CGI landscapes and eventually fight a forgettable, nonthreatening villain, whose goals are similarly unclear. There are some vague life lessons along the way, and the actors do their best to sell both the bland family-friendly messages and the wonder of the chintzy fantasy world. Like the journey through Keoherus, though, the effort isn’t worth the meager results. Grade: C-
Sawed Off (VOD and DVD October 11): In 1986, Chuck Wagner wrote a short story in Eclipse Comics’ horror anthology Tales of Terror, and now it’s a movie, for some reason. There’s not enough material here for a feature film, nor does director and co-writer Hunter Johnson have the resources to properly bring Wagner’s vision to life. None of the details make much sense, as old friends Jon (Jody Barton) and Frank (Trae Ireland) reunite for a hunting trip at a remote cabin owned by their mutual ex Marjorie (Eva Hamilton). Marjorie tells a story, depicted via crude animation, about a curse on the land, and Jon and Frank seem to be stuck in a time loop that finds them repeatedly killing each other. The character relationships aren’t well-established enough to care about the interpersonal animosity, and the mechanics of the curse are inconsistent. The laughably bad special effects render the supposedly gruesome moments into pathetic jokes. Some things are better left in the back-issue bins. Grade: D
Three Wishes for Cinderella (VOD and DVD/Blu-ray October 18): A 1973 Czech film take on the classic fairy tale has become a holiday-TV staple in many European countries, and now it gets a bigger-budget remake from one of those countries. This Norwegian movie stars pop singer Astrid S as the title character, who is still an abused orphan living with her evil stepmother (Ellen Dorrit Petersen). She only has one stepsister, who is more misguided than malicious, and there’s no fairy godmother helping her win over the prince (Cengiz Al). Instead, three magical acorns provide her with the means to escape her circumstances and find true love. The sumptuous production is set in a dazzling winter wonderland, where Cinderella and the prince are both allowed to be more proactive and progressive than in other tellings. Petersen makes for a delightfully malevolent villain, and it’s easy to get swept up in this oft-told but pleasant tale. Grade: B