This week’s minor VOD releases check in with a killer mold in Korea, a fancy restaurant in Greenland, a warrior queen in ancient Britain, and a vengeance-seeking farmer in Kansas City.
Sick Girl (VOD and select theaters October 20): In reality, people who pretend to have cancer are not quirky rom-com heroines — they’re the subjects of true-crime podcasts. That severe miscalculation at the heart of writer-director Jennifer Cram’s debut film proves impossible to overcome, no matter how many humbling lessons the trainwreck protagonist supposedly learns. Immature party girl Wren Pepper (Nina Dobrev) is super bummed that her lifelong besties are too busy with their kids, careers, and significant others to go out and get wasted with her every night, so she fakes a cancer diagnosis to get their attention. That leads to several allegedly comedic scenarios of Wren inventing treatments and symptoms, plus a meet-cute with handsome, sensitive actual cancer patient Leo (Brandon Mychal Smith) at a support group. The frantic humor clashes with the disingenuous moralizing, and even the prospect of a fatal disease can’t make any of these characters endearing. Grade: C
The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra (IndiePix Unlimited and virtual cinema October 20; DVD December 12): Although it involves a sentient fungus that steals people’s vertebrae, this experimental Korean film couldn’t really be categorized as horror. There’s nothing scary about writer-director Park Sye-young’s first feature, unless you count the inability for human beings to truly connect emotionally. As the mattress containing the fungus is passed from place to place, it encounters various people at their most vulnerable – not only to having their spinal columns pilfered, but also to revealing their deepest feelings. It starts in the new apartment of a couple on the verge of a break-up, before moving to a love hotel and later to a hospice, where it’s grown powerful enough to make a promise to a dying woman. Park’s film is woozy and impressionistic, full of abstract visuals and abrupt transitions, which can make it tough to get a handle on the human characters and the fungus’ purpose. It’s less a creature feature than a meditation on the inexorable passage of time. Grade: B-
The Devil Comes to Kansas City (Tubi October 21): A cautionary tale about the dangers of visiting a Kansas City performing arts center, this laughable thriller starts out like a feature-film adaptation of those conspiracy memes about sex traffickers abducting people in parking lots, before shifting into something even more baffling. Seemingly peaceful Iowa farmer Paul Wilson (Ben Gavin) has to revive his dormant mercenary skills against some bad guys who kill his wife and kidnap his daughter when they travel to the big city to attend a children’s stage production. The overwrought dialogue, stilted performances, and chintzy special effects already make the movie a chore, and that’s before Paul teams up with the great-grandson of Robert Johnson, who’s inherited his ancestor’s debt to Satan, has telepathic powers, and wields an arrow-shooting guitar. Writer-director Michael P. Blevins mixes a shoddy action movie with a deeply misguided Christian parable, ending up with an incoherent disaster that both God and the devil would probably be ashamed to endorse. Grade: D
Boudica: Queen of War (VOD and select theaters October 27): With movies like Sentinelle and High Heat, actress Olga Kurylenko has established herself as one of the bright spots of genre B-movies, so it makes sense that she’d team up with direct-to-video action auteur Jesse V. Johnson. They make for a perfect pairing in this sword-and-sorcery saga, which is more swords than sorcery. Loosely inspired by the actual warrior queen of Britain during the first century A.D., Boudica stars Kurylenko as the title character, whose idyllic existence is shattered when invading Romans kill her husband and take her tribe’s land. She takes her place as the leader of the combined British forces, in a violent uprising against the Romans. As usual, Johnson stages excellent action sequences, although the limited budget shows in some of the period detail. Kurylenko is mesmerizing as the fearsome fighter, and while the plot is slow to start, the gnarly bloodshed is mostly worth the wait. Grade: B
The Most Remote Restaurant in the World (Viaplay October 31): The restaurant depicted in this documentary is essentially the real-life equivalent of the culinary establishment in The Menu, only without the murder. Located in an isolated Greenland village with a population of 50 people, the new outpost of Michelin-starred Danish restaurant KOKS is accessible only by boat, and already has more than a thousand reservations before it’s even opened. Director Ole Juncker chronicles the three months leading up to the 2022 opening, focusing on award-winning chef Poul Andrias Ziska as he deals with a lack of basic services, an indifferent populace, and the challenge of crafting a menu from only locally sourced ingredients. Many of the dishes sound like parodies of high-end dining, and the movie is sometimes indistinguishable from an episode of Documentary Now! Juncker plays it straight, leaving the audience to decide whether Ziska and his team are avatars of late-capitalist hubris or just really dedicated foodies. Grade: B