This week’s minor VOD releases feature sasquatches in Oregon, werewolves in Luxembourg, and twee techies in Austin.
The Passenger (VOD August 4): “There’s no point to what you’re doing,” says meek fast-food employee Randy (Johnny Berchtold) to his violent, unhinged co-worker Benson (Kyle Gallner) toward the end of this intense thriller, and he’s not wrong. Benson claims that his crime spree is designed to help Randy take control of his life, and the film seems to be making the same somewhat dubious argument. Benson begins by killing three of the duo’s fellow food-service workers, before kidnapping Randy and taking him on a tour of his past failures. Gallner throws himself into the role of a psychotic would-be self-help guru, although much of the movie is one-note as Benson angrily pushes Randy toward asserting himself. Still, there’s a jittery energy to the dynamic between the main characters, and Liza Weil enlivens the movie in the final act as Randy’s compassionate former teacher. There may not be a point to the destructive journey, but there’s a bit of stylish catharsis, at least. Grade: B-
Summoning the Spirit (VOD and DVD August 8): It’s probably a red flag when the real estate agent who sells you your too-good-to-be-true rustic home in the Oregon woods is also a member of the sasquatch-worshiping cult that lives next door. To be fair, author Dean (Ernesto Reyes) and therapist Carla (Krystal Millie Valdes) aren’t aware of that connection when they buy the house, even though the cult’s leader recruits new followers via his popular podcast. Director and co-writer Jon Garcia takes his time getting to the sasquatch-fueled horror, instead focusing on Dean and Carla’s tedious relationship drama and Carla’s connection to the cult’s latest recruit. The movie’s Bigfoot spends most of that time wandering contemplatively through the forest, which doesn’t make the performer in the fur-lined suit look any less silly. Heavy themes about grief and sacrifice are a poor fit with the eventual limb-rending Bigfoot rampage, and Summoning the Spirit fails as both existential folk horror and campy cryptid romp. Grade: C
Wolfkin (VOD August 8): Almost certainly the first-ever Luxembourgish werewolf movie, Wolfkin is an effectively creepy story about toxic generational legacy, set amid the tiny nation’s gorgeous countryside. Single mother Elaine (Louise Manteau) travels from Brussels to rural Luxembourg in hopes of getting help for her 10-year-old son Martin (Victor Dieu), who’s been exhibiting disturbing behavior. She seeks out the wealthy, reclusive parents of Martin’s absentee father, who are quick to welcome Elaine and Martin into their unsettling family dynamic, full of bizarre, seemingly inexplicable rituals. It’s pretty obvious that lycanthropy runs in the family, but director and co-writer Jacques Molitor builds a sense of inexorable dread as Elaine realizes that Martin’s grandparents have no intention of letting her and her son leave their fortified compound. There’s a late-breaking allegory about the refugee crisis in Europe that doesn’t quite land, but otherwise Wolfkin is an engrossing, often haunting movie that breathes new life into a common horror subgenre. Grade: B
Trader (VOD August 10): What if The Wolf of Wall Street was a one-woman performance-art piece? That’s what writer-director Corey Stanton seems to be aiming for with this unconvincing psychological thriller about an unnamed sociopath (Kimberly-Sue Murray) who schemes her way into riches via day trading. Murray is the only actor onscreen, and the entire movie takes place within her character’s dingy basement apartment, where she starts out scamming senior citizens’ credit card numbers before shifting to trading stocks online. She quickly learns how to manipulate both stock prices and the traders themselves, especially an online guru named Bob the Broker (voiced by Shaun Benson). The phone calls and online interactions (via distractingly fake-looking websites) are broken up by abstract movement pieces representing the trader’s mental state and her various illicit strategies, which eventually escalate to orchestrating a terrorist attack. Full of awkwardly delivered financial jargon, Trader is stilted and ungainly, like a misguided adaptation of a nonexistent stage production. Grade: C
Match Me If You Can (VOD and select theaters August 11): The perils of online dating are not exactly fresh subject matter for a romantic comedy, and director Marian Yeager and screenwriter Betsy Morris don’t have any new insights to offer. When jaded singleton Kip (Georgina Reilly) gets a rude rejection email from an eHarmony-style matchmaking site called iPromise, she pens a nasty blog post that goes viral, imperiling iPromise’s business. Kip is the kind of “weird” only found in rom-com heroines: She has a pet hermit crab! She likes Marvel and Star Wars! She just wears a little bit of makeup! Of course, she ends up in a You’ve Got Mail situation with iPromise’s equally “quirky” owner Riley (Wilson Bethel) after an excruciating meet-cute involving a puffer fish. The characters are insufferable, the set-up is nonsensical, and, worst of all for a rom-com, the leads have no chemistry. Then again, they’re both so smug and cloying that they probably deserve each other. Grade: C-