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

In this week’s low-profile VOD releases, characters find themselves trapped in a shuttered prison, a haunted subway station, and an empty office building, with results that range from illuminating to infuriating — for both the characters and the audience.

Zero Hour (VOD December 15): There’s probably about 15 minutes of actual plot in this 70-minute movie, which is padded out with meandering, interminable drone shots, stock footage, flashbacks that merely repeat the same scene over again, and 10-plus minutes of opening and closing credits. What little narrative remains doesn’t make much sense, full of shocking twists that only widen the already gaping plot holes. The bulk of it takes place in an empty office building after hours, where Ida (Mikaela Hoover) is being chased by masked assailants, who may be the same people responsible for her husband’s recent murder. She knows this because her late husband Isaac (writer-director Justin Groetsch) seems to be texting her from beyond the grave, giving her pointers on how to evade her pursuers. There’s no suspense to the clumsily staged action, and both the supernatural elements and the attackers’ strategies are negated by later developments that render even the meager stakes largely irrelevant. Grade: D-

The Ghost Station (VOD and DVD/Blu-ray December 19): There’s potential in some of the ideas introduced in this Korean horror movie, even though director Jeong Yong-ki borrows most of them from other, better horror films. Journalist Na-young (Kim Bo-ra), pressured by her sleazy bosses to find a story that will go viral, amplifies the sketchy reports of mysterious deaths at a supposedly haunted subway station, discovering terrifying secrets in the process. Those secrets involve a curse that can be passed from one person to another, created thanks to a grudge held by children who were left for dead in a well. Jeong isn’t coy about evoking J-horror classics like Ju-on: The Grudge and Ringu, and The Ghost Station suffers in comparison, without similarly evocative imagery or memorable deaths. The focus of Na-young’s investigation keeps shifting, so that the apparent justice or vengeance that the curse requires is never fully realized. There are a few creepy moments leading up to the abrupt, unsatisfying ending. Grade: C+

Snow White’s Christmas Adventure (VOD December 19): It’s unclear how exactly this half-heartedly holiday-themed film (titled simply Snow White’s Adventure in the credits) is meant to connect to the established Snow White story, but narrative coherence is not something the filmmakers seem concerned about. Snow White (Jennifer Mischiati) has already fallen for the Prince (Elijah Rowen) — whom she refers to solely by the name Prince — and has an existing relationship with the Queen (Rayna Campbell), who’s mostly just petty rather than evil. Mad that Snow White has failed to send her a Christmas card, the Queen casts a spell on Prince, causing him to get lost on his way back from buying Snow White a Christmas gift. The characters mill about in sparsely appointed locations, marking time until the arbitrary heartwarming ending. The dialogue is rudimentary and repetitive, the cinematography is flat and ugly, the performances are awkward, and Mischiati and Campbell are overshadowed by their terrible wigs. Grade: D

Breakwater (VOD and select theaters December 22): Dermot Mulroney seems to be settling nicely into the grizzled-old-man phase of his career, but this tepid thriller doesn’t give him much support. Mulroney’s manipulative criminal Ray Childress isn’t even the main character — he’s the antagonist to bland lovebirds Dovey (Darren Mann) and Eve (Alyssa Goss), who fall for each other while serving as Ray’s unwitting pawns. The naive Dovey sees Ray as his mentor, the wise veteran who helped Dovey survive three years in prison and is just asking for some information about his estranged daughter. But that’s not what Ray’s looking for when he sends Dovey to a picturesque seaside town to track Eve down, and Ray eventually reveals his true plan, although not before writer-director James Rowe puts the audience through the entirety of Dovey and Eve’s insipid courtship. Mulroney relishes his villainous role, but he so thoroughly outclasses Mann and Goss that there’s no tension in their dynamic, just a rote march toward a wan redemptive ending. Grade: C

The Inner Cage (Film Movement Plus December 22): For a brief time, this slow-moving Italian drama seems like it’s headed toward something violent and explosive, as prisoners at a remote decommissioned prison foment a rebellion. Director and co-writer Leonardo Di Costanzo takes things in a different, more rewarding direction, though, opting for a meditation on the nature of freedom and captivity. Thanks to an administrative mishap, 12 inmates are left behind after the closing of the decrepit prison, with a skeleton crew assigned to watch over them. As days stretch to weeks, former crime boss Carmine Lagioia (Silvio Orlando) rallies his fellow prisoners to demand better conditions, sensing the staff’s lack of resources and institutional support. Instead of cracking down, head guard Gaetano (Toni Servillo) works with Lagioia, and the two world-weary men come to an implicit understanding, given that both are essentially trapped in the same place. The movie’s revelations are minor, but it’s engrossing in its quiet simplicity. Grade: B

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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