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

There’s quite a menagerie in this week’s fringe VOD releases, including a snowboarding dog, a murderous jackalope, and an injured fox cub who befriends an Austrian soldier. Plus, MUBI and Tubi offer two disparate movies about Americans spending time abroad.

The Last Year of Darkness (MUBI March 15): Director Ben Mullinkosson provides almost no context for his documentary about the final days of an underground nightclub in the Chinese city of Chengdu, but it’s not hard to figure out what’s coming, as huge construction equipment encroaches ever-closer to the small but vibrant enclave known as Funky Town. It’s a bit harder to parse the relationships and motivations of Mullinkosson’s subjects, all longtime patrons of the club that provides a haven for expats, musicians, and members of the LGBTQ community. Mullinkosson’s film is more impressionistic than expository, and it can be a bit disjointed as it jumps from person to person, spending long chunks of time away from the club and depicting personal interactions that are often inscrutable. At the same time, it’s consistently affecting and illuminating, with a glimpse into a side of Chinese life not often shown to Western audiences. Mullinkosson portrays the changing Chengdu as beautiful and mysterious, and he captures a stylish snapshot of the fleeting youthful energy within. Grade: B

You Shouldn’t Have Let Me In (Tubi March 15): Apparently all you need to do to keep a vampire out of his own house is sign a temporary lease, but bride-to-be Rochelle (Isabella Egizi) and her friends aren’t aware of that loophole when they invite suave Italian aristocrat Victor (Fabián Castro) to party with them at the villa they’ve rented from him for Rochelle’s bachelorette weekend. Victor has his eyes on Rochelle’s estranged best friend Kelsey (Diana Gardner), who’s a dead ringer for his long-lost bride. It’s all pretty standard vampire stuff, occasionally enlivened by self-deprecating jokes and a modern social-media take on the classic search for the immortal’s reincarnated lover. Director Dave Parker can’t settle on a tone, though, lurching from steamy eroticism to goofy humor, while the familiar plot operates mostly on autopilot. Gardner is appealing as the insecure (but obviously gorgeous) underachiever, but Castro is neither sexy nor menacing, and the climactic reveal of Victor’s monstrous form is more laughable than scary. The sequel-baiting final scene suggests a looser, more fun dynamic that the rest of the movie never quite achieves. Grade: C

The Fox (VOD March 22): The premise of this Austrian drama sounds like the set-up for a treacly inspirational story: During World War II, soldier Franz Streitberger (Simon Morzé) finds an injured fox cub and nurses it back to health, keeping it as his companion amid the horrors of war. Writer-director Adrian Goiginger instead presents a stark yet sensitive drama about a troubled young man thrust into a terrible situation. Goiginger takes his time, devoting a 20-minute prologue to Franz’s rough childhood, when his parents essentially sold him off as a farmhand because they couldn’t afford to feed him, which leaves him with abandonment issues that he projects onto the fox. Goiginger downplays the Nazi aspects while making it clear that Franz is a conscript rather than a true believer. He keeps the story personal, shooting in a 4:3 aspect ratio with rounded corners, resembling the framing of old home movies. It’s a tender examination of how one kind of trauma can be amplified by another, with only minimal moments of sentimentality. Grade: B+

Easter Bloody Easter (VOD March 26): Although Easter isn’t nearly as popular as Christmas when it comes to holiday horror, there are a surprising number of killer Easter Bunny movies. Easter Bloody Easter isn’t going to challenge the Christmas horror hegemony, though, despite an amiable approach and some amusing touches. Technically speaking, the villain here is a were-jackalope, a human who transmogrifies into the mythical jackrabbit/antelope hybrid and goes on a killing spree. That monster also commands an army of demonically possessed bunnies, all entertainingly depicted via charmingly low-fi practical effects. The story is less charming, relying on some tired Southern stereotypes as a trio of small-town ladies look into a series of disappearances while also planning their church’s Easter activities. The pacing is uneven, taking occasional detours for Easter-themed dance numbers, and director Diane Foster (who also stars) never finds the right balance of campiness and badassery. The confusing mythology and cluttered subplots get in the way of what could have just been a wacky gore-fest. Grade: C+

Powder Pup (VOD March 26): While there’s no rule that says a dog can’t snowboard, the title character of this dismal family comedy mostly stays on the sidelines so that boring humans can enter the big tournament at a Montana ski resort. Bulldog Bodi knows his way around a snowboard, although the movie just keeps recycling the same brief footage of him alone on the slopes. The rest of the time, he’s a sidekick to petulant teenager Shaun (Ashton Arbab), a surfer who takes up snowboarding after moving to Montana from Southern California. The plot is perfunctory and dull, padded with repetitive scenes of the same basic snowboarding tricks from different characters. Director and co-writer Ari Novak (whose dog-centric filmography also includes Sk8 Dawg and PawParazzi) fares no better with the strained canine comedy, featuring a talking Bodi and his irritating stray-dog buddies. At least Jay Mohr, as a sportscaster interviewing Shaun and Bodi in a clumsy framing sequence, is smart enough not to bother sharing space onscreen with any of his co-stars, of any species. Grade: D+

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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