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

From the free, ad-supported expanse of Tubi to the curated streaming service of arthouse theater Metrograph, this week’s low-profile VOD offerings include a George Romero rip-off, a Hurley family fiasco, and a would-be Oscar contender from the Netherlands.

Strictly Confidential (VOD and select theaters April 5): It takes a special kind of son to write and direct a movie featuring his mother in cleavage-baring dresses, engaged in steamy makeout sessions with a much younger actress. Potential Oedipal issues aside, Damian Hurley’s debut feature is a dismal, suspense-free thriller, full of vapid characters spouting inane dialogue. Set on the islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis and shot like a promotional tourism video, Strictly Confidential stars Hurley’s mother Elizabeth as Lily, who’s invited the friends of her late daughter Rebecca (Lauren McQueen) for a weeklong getaway on the one-year anniversary of Rebecca’s supposed death by drowning. Everyone is keeping dark secrets, and Rebecca’s best friend Mia (Georgia Lock) is determined to discover the truth. That leads to the world’s most obvious, overused twist, along with several laughable sub-twists that take the movie into the realm of cheesy nighttime soaps. The characters lounge around in incongruously fancy outfits, like they’re modeling for a catalog, and even the sex scenes are overly posed and lifeless. Grade: D

Festival of the Living Dead (Tubi April 5): The public domain status of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead has led to numerous unofficial sequels, remakes, and spinoffs, most of them worthless. Indie horror mainstays Jen and Sylvia Soska start out with an intriguing idea in their bootleg sequel, integrating scenes from the original movie along with actual historical footage during an opening montage. That helps sell the idea that the 1968 zombie attack was a real-life tragedy, treated with the same mix of solemnity and exploitation as something like 9/11. What follows, though, is an entirely generic, forgettable zombie movie set at a music festival, with only cursory ties to Romero’s classic (the festival allegedly commemorates the attack). The Soskas do their best to stage a zombie-themed Coachella on a Tubi budget, but the action remains thin and repetitive, with annoying characters who make dumb decisions. Rather than directly engaging with Romero’s legacy, the movie plunders it for cheap thrills, trading innovation for tiresome imitation. Grade: C

The Wild (VOD April 9): There are so many double- and triple-crosses in this interminable, convoluted Korean crime thriller that it’s impossible to keep track of who’s betraying whom, let alone care about the outcome. Director Kim Bong-han starts with a fairly basic set-up, as former boxer Song Woo-cheol (Park Sung-woong) is released from prison after serving seven years for accidentally killing an opponent in the ring. Woo-cheol tells his old friend Jang Do-sik (Oh Dae-hwan) that he just wants to live a quiet life, but he’s immediately drawn back into Do-sik’s criminal empire, thanks to his affection for prostitute Choi Myeong-joo (Seo Ji-hye). Many, many overwrought plot developments follow, ultimately converging on a drug deal between Do-sik and a gang of North Korean defectors. Park conveys Woo-cheol’s quiet decency and honor, but there’s no chemistry in the central romance, and no sense of tragic inevitability to the confusing, violence-filled climax. Lots of people get stabbed, but none of it makes any impact. Grade: C

All You Need Is Death (VOD and select theaters April 11): A folk horror movie about folk songs, the first narrative feature from documentary filmmaker Paul Duane combines his previous focus on ethnomusicology with a pervasive dread about the terror that could be unleashed from ancient myths. The interest that researchers and lovers Anna (Simone Collins) and Aleks (Charlie Maher) have in documenting obscure Irish folk songs is already suspect, as they use the songs not for academic purposes but to sell to shady collectors in backroom meetings. One of those collectors is the mysterious Agnes (Catherine Siggins), who’s one step ahead of them in recording a song so dangerous it’s never meant to be shared beyond a specific matrilineal line. Hearing the song transforms the characters in grotesque ways, as it potentially brings a demonic entity back to life. Death is more atmospheric than coherent, but Duane effectively captures the unsettling nature of music that was created before modern nations existed, a tradition passed down out of fear and warning rather than artistic expression. Grade: B

Sweet Dreams (Metrograph at Home April 12): This year’s official Oscar submission from the Netherlands is a deadpan, semi-satirical drama set in the Dutch East Indies. Around 1900, Dutch sugar plantation owner Jan (Hans Dagelet) dies suddenly, leading to an absurdist power struggle for his estate, just as the Dutch are being driven out by the locals. Jan’s widow Agathe (Renée Soutendijk) desperately clings to the crumbling colonial lifestyle, while her arrogant son Cornelis (Florian Myjer) and his pregnant wife Josefien (Lisa Zweerman) want to wring whatever cash they can out of the plantation as quickly as possible. The complicating factor is Jan’s mistress, housekeeper Siti (Hayati Azis), who’s also the mother of Jan’s illegitimate son Karel (Rio Kaj Den Haas). Writer-director Ena Sendijarevic pits these characters against each other in a sometimes comical battle for an essentially worthless inheritance, and they often feel more like archetypes than people. There are some gorgeously composed shots and some pointed barbs at clueless oppressors, making for an artful if occasionally dry lecture on the folly of colonialism. 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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