This week’s lineup of marginal VOD releases includes two different types of deadly alligators, plus a teacher-student hook-up, a disturbingly Oedipal relationship, and artsy twenty-somethings trying to make it in New York City.
The Flood (VOD and select theaters July 14): A cast of B-movie regulars—including Casper Van Dien, Louis Mandylor, and Nicky Whelan—fend off fake-looking CGI alligators during a hurricane in this weak riff on Assault on Precinct 13. As a storm rages in Louisiana, a prison transport bus is forced to stop at a rural police station until the weather clears. Taking advantage of the chaos, a group of criminals invade the station to retrieve their captive associate (Van Dien), but everyone is faced with bigger problems when rising waters bring hungry alligators inside. The actors try on a variety of questionable accents, and their tough-guy posturing is only slightly more convincing. The suspense is minimal, and the action is underwhelming, especially in the direct interactions between humans and alligators. Director Brandon Slagle told a similar siege story, with aliens instead of alligators, in 2020’s clumsy Attack of the Unknown, and his approach hasn’t improved since then. Grade: C-
Amor Bandido (VOD and DVD July 18): What starts out as a drama about forbidden romance takes a hard turn into thriller territory about halfway through, with limited success. Teenager Joan (Renato Quattordio) is having a secret affair with his teacher Luciana (Romina Ricci), who quits her job and agrees to run away with him to her family’s vacation home in the Argentinian countryside. Their seemingly idyllic tryst is interrupted by the arrival of an injured stranger, who reveals the sinister intentions underlying the supposed getaway. Director and co-writer Daniel Werner stages plenty of steamy, explicit sex scenes between Joan and Luciana, but he doesn’t connect their primal passion to the larger crime story. Explaining the motivations behind the plan only invites annoying questions about logistics, and there’s no emotional resonance to the complicated connection between the main characters. Werner raises potentially intriguing issues of class, gender, and the balance of sexual power, but he doesn’t follow through in a meaningful way. Grade: C+
Mother, May I? (VOD and select theaters July 21): Horror-movie characters are always blithely moving into creepy, isolated houses they inherit from estranged relatives, and it never goes well. That’s what happens for Emmett (Kyle Gallner) and his fiancée Anya (Holland Roden) following the death of the mother Emmett hasn’t seen since he was a child. After just a day in Emmett’s spacious yet foreboding childhood home, Anya starts acting strangely, appearing to take on the persona of Emmett’s late mother. Is she possessed? Is she mentally ill? Or is she playing some kind of sick mind game with Emmett? Writer-director Laurence Vannicelli isn’t particularly interested in providing definitive answers, and once the initial unsettling surprise of Anya’s change in behavior wears off, the movie doesn’t have much else to offer. Roden shifts impressively between the two personalities, but the exploration of the Freudian dynamic between Emmett and Anya is wispy and repetitive, leading to a vague, dissatisfying resolution. Grade: C+
August at Twenty-Two (VOD July 25): Channeling a mix of Rachel Sennott in Shiva Baby and Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, writer Ali Edwards gives a funny, charming performance as Cal, a recent college graduate flailing about romantically and professionally in New York City. An aspiring actress, Cal struggles through auditions and social interactions, especially in a reunion with her childhood best friend and longtime crush Jacob (Clay Singer). She’s hurt to discover that Jacob has acquired a poised, accomplished girlfriend, but once she gets to know Emily (Lilli Kay), she becomes smitten, too. Edwards and director Sophia Castuera smartly combine modern casual sexual fluidity with classic rom-com elements, including Cal’s supportive gay best friend Bobby (Jorge Felipe Guevara). The efforts to deepen that friendship and give it greater focus don’t quite work, but the characters all share appealing, natural chemistry. They’re fascinating messes, figuring out their lives in ways that feel both entirely contemporary and refreshingly timeless. Grade: B+
Ouija Shark 2 (VOD July 25): The original Ouija Shark already barely had a connection to the shark-attack genre, and writer/director/star John Migliore takes it even further into supernatural territory with this absurd sequel. Migliore, who co-wrote the first movie, takes over from director Brett Kelly, and he also gives himself the leading role. Never mind that his character, mystical expert Anthony, sacrificed himself in the first movie to defeat the spectral shark summoned via Ouija board. Both Anthony and the shark are now in Hell, where he becomes a sort of low-rent Doctor Strange, fighting against a demon who controls the shark. Both the Ouija Shark and its eventual nemesis, the Tarot Gator, are depicted via endearingly chintzy puppets, and Migliore throws in some wry self-deprecating humor. That’s not enough to make up for the stiff acting, threadbare sets, ugly special effects, and extensive use of stock footage, though. Hardcore bad-movie fans may be amused, but everyone else will just be bored. Grade: C