VODepths: What to See (and Avoid) On Demand This Week

This week’s low-profile VOD releases feature horror movies about trains and skydiving and podcasting, plus a romance filled with awkward poetry.

Sinphony: A Clubhouse Horror Anthology (VOD and select theaters October 21): Remember Clubhouse, the audio app that was briefly poised to become the next social media sensation? Probably not, but if nothing else it’s responsible for this horror anthology, which was conceived and curated on the app. Clubhouse itself figures into one of the segments, but otherwise there isn’t much to set Sinphony apart from dozens of other horror anthologies; it has a higher hit percentage than some, with solid production values in most of the segments. The filmmakers make an effort to connect them via a song that’s repeated in various genres and styles, which is more effective than the confusing wraparound story. There’s more atmosphere than scares even in the best segments, but there are enough creepy moments and effective jolts to keep the audience on the hook. This movie is ambitiously labeled “Volume 1,” and at this rate it might outlast the app that spawned it. Grade: B-

Terror Train (Tubi October 21): As far as early Jamie Lee Curtis slasher movies go, 1980’s Terror Train is no Halloween. It has its scuzzy charms, though, which is more than can be said for this made-for-Tubi remake, which remains largely faithful to the original story. Three years after a fraternity initiation gone wrong, the college students who perpetrated the cruel prank are stalked by a masked killer aboard a party train. The filmmakers move the setting from New Year’s Eve to Halloween and add some Gen-Z buzzwords, but otherwise it’s just a rote series of tame killings on sets that barely resemble the interior of a train. Robyn Alomar takes over for Curtis as Alana, who regrets her participation in the prank, and Canadian national treasure Tim Rozon brings some sleazeball energy to the magician role previously played by David Copperfield. The acting is passable, but the pacing is sluggish, and the final reveal is underwhelming whether you’ve seen the original movie or not. Grade: C

The Murder Podcast (VOD October 26): At this point, self-important podcasters may be too easy a target for mockery, and writer-director William Bagley’s debut feature hits all the obvious notes in its portrayal of underemployed slackers Chad (Andrew McDermott) and Eddie (Cooper Bucha), who produce a ramen review podcast that barely cracks 100 listeners per episode. When Chad hears about a mysterious death in their small town, he decides that the duo needs to switch to investigative podcasting in order to attract a bigger audience. They’re better at getting stoned than they are at investigating, but they stumble into a supernatural conspiracy anyway, which also vindicates the theories put forth by Chad’s late father. It’s never particularly suspenseful or scary, but The Murder Podcast is mostly likable as a buddy comedy and a belated coming-of-age story. McDermott balances Chad’s earnestness and obnoxiousness, and Bagley delivers a handful of genuine laughs, especially in a final stinger that almost entirely justifies the tired podcasting angle. Grade: B-

A Chance Encounter (VOD and select theaters October 28): A half-hearted romance and a muddled rumination on creativity, director and co-writer Alexander Jeffery’s drama is valuable mostly as a showcase for singer-songwriter Andrea von Kampen. She plays Josie Day, a folk singer who’s struggling to create a follow-up to her one minor hit song. Josie has decamped to picturesque Taormina, Italy, for inspiration, and that’s where she meets aspiring poet Hal Flynn (co-writer Paul Petersen), who’s also doing some soul-searching, following the death of his mother. They have a meet-cute at the piazza and then spend a week together, ostensibly to fuel each other’s artistic projects. Jeffery does himself no favors by inviting comparisons to Before Sunrise and Once, and the leads have minimal chemistry. Von Kampen’s original songs are lovely, as are the images of Taormina, but Petersen’s poems are dreadful, making Josie’s encouragement of Hal’s career ambitions seem almost cruel. Better to just listen to von Kampen’s soundtrack instead. Grade: C+

Hex (VOD and DVD November 1): Maybe horror filmmakers have run out of ideas for things that can be cursed. Even one of the characters in this ridiculous movie scoffs at the idea of a cursed skydiving maneuver, but that’s exactly what’s causing trouble for him and his friends. Six skydivers perform the so-called “hex” formation, and one of them disappears into thin air immediately afterward. The rest of them suffer Final Destination-style fates in the days that follow, as newcomer Sarah (Kayla Adams) attempts to discover the secrets of the hex, which may also be responsible for her father’s death. Directors Chris Johnston and Andy Malchiodi capture some cool skydiving footage, but Hans Rodionoff’s script is impossible to take seriously, and the actors have trouble conveying the characters’ anguish and paranoia. Rodionoff piles on multiple clichéd horror twists, leading to an incoherent ending that hinges on a supernatural altimeter. Skydiving is scary enough on its own without having to add this laughable demonic nonsense. Grade: C-

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of 'Las Vegas Weekly' and has written about movies and pop culture for Syfy Wire, Polygon, CBR, Film Racket, Uproxx and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.

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