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

In this week’s low-profile VOD releases, murderous frog- and parrot-based creatures stalk unsuspecting victims, a motel clerk encounters ghosts at her workplace, and privileged narcissists whine about their relationships.

Murdaritaville (VOD, Blu-ray, and VHS March 1): An opening title card describes this inept horror comedy as “a love letter” to the late singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett — and also misspells Buffett’s name, which is emblematic of the slapdash approach from director and co-writer Paul Dale. Dale specializes in these gimmicky micro-budget genre movies, including Killer Kites and Sewer Gators, and Murdaritaville follows the same formula, with only nominal suspense or horror. Dale, of course, has no rights to any Buffett music, but the dialogue sounds like he’s trying to win a contest for the most unmotivated Buffett references. The idea of a literal mutant “parrothead” as a killer of insufficiently dedicated Buffett fans is amusing, but Dale can’t hold that theme together, instead just haphazardly offing his annoying characters until he runs out of steam before the 60-minute mark. As a three-minute sketch, Murdaritaville might have been mildly amusing, but as a feature film, it’s a grueling endurance test for even the most laid-back Buffett aficionado. Grade: D

Wild Fire (VOD March 5): Married adults don’t generally play Truth or Dare, especially not at someone’s 50th birthday party, but that’s apparently the only way that writer-director Jennifer Cooney can get her characters to open up, leading to many awkward revelations for a trio of couples and the widowed party host. Elliana (Celeste Marcone) and six of her guests sit around a fire pit after everyone else has gone home, trading intrusive questions that challenge their relationships. It’s like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? filtered through a bookstore’s entire self-help section, with smug philosophy professor Del (Jillian Geurts) offering the most insufferable “insights” about romance and sexuality. Wild Fire begins with cheesy soft-focus sex scenes that suggest a much seedier movie, but while the party occasionally seems on the verge of devolving into a full-on orgy, Cooney sticks to the tiresome personal drama. The stilted performances and pseudo-provocative dialogue would probably have fit better if Cooney embraced the softcore Skinemax vibe. Grade: C

Frogman (VOD March 8): Shot mostly on Hi-8 videotape, this found-footage creature feature conveys a compelling level of authenticity, trading on the same faux-urban legend veracity as The Blair Witch Project. At times its Blair Witch homage is a bit too blatant, as filmmaker Dallas Kyle (Nathan Tymoshuk) and his friends Scotty (Benny Barrett) and Amy (Chelsey Grant) explore the town of Loveland, Ohio, and interview local residents about the supposed monster that lurks in the surrounding woods. Frogman goes all the way into eldritch horror in its chaotic finale, but it works surprisingly well as a low-key dramedy before then. There’s a tragic melancholy to Dallas, who’s obsessed with the footage of Frogman he allegedly captured as a child, and determined to disprove his online haters by obtaining undeniable documentation. He’s also secretly in love with Amy, in a subplot that provides an unexpectedly poignant payoff. Frogman itself isn’t as satisfyingly explored, but director and co-writer Anthony Cousins still creates a striking, immersive world within his limited resources. Grade: B-

Night Shift (VOD and select theaters March 8): When Gwen (Phoebe Tonkin) takes a job on the night shift at a rundown roadside motel, owner Teddy Miles (Lamorne Morris) assures her that the place isn’t haunted, but the ominous music on the soundtrack suggests otherwise. Sure enough, as soon as Teddy leaves Gwen on her own, she starts experiencing standard horror-movie phenomena, including flickering lights, sudden loud noises, and brief glimpses of bloody apparitions. There’s only one guest, leaving plenty of time for Gwen to explore the motel’s foreboding dark corners. Sibling writer-directors Benjamin and Paul China go through the expected motions with dull competence, and Tonkin does the same. A late-film twist connects Night Shift to another particularly famous movie about the proprietor of an out-of-the-way motel, but it mostly just makes the preceding hour seem like a waste of time. It’s only in the epilogue that the Chinas find a more engaging perspective on Gwen’s position, and there’s barely a glimpse of that before the movie’s over. Grade: C

One-Percent Warrior (VOD and Blu-ray March 12): Veteran action star Tak Sakaguchi plays a veteran action star in this self-reflexive Japanese action movie, which isn’t quite as clever as it makes itself out to be. Takuma Toshiro (Sakaguchi) starred in one hit movie a decade ago, but his obsession with the “realism” of action scenes has made him difficult to work with. Determined to create his own masterpiece, he secures a location from a shady backer and heads with his assistant to a remote abandoned factory, where he ends up in the crossfire of a dispute between rival organized-crime factions. Writer-director Yûdai Yamaguchi mixes the indie-film ingenuity of Japanese cult comedy One Cut of the Dead with the metaphysical meta-commentary of Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle JCVD, but One-Percent Warrior’s real strength is more basic, when the pretensions take a backseat to Sakaguchi’s impressive fighting skills. The genre deconstruction is uneven and sometimes confusing, but the efficient yet thrilling fundamentals keep the movie on track. 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.

Back to top