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

In this week’s underground VOD releases, characters work out their emotional issues at summer camp, during a wedding weekend, and while being held hostage by a possibly incestuous pair of farmers.

Bad Impulse (VOD December 18): Hint: If your high-tech home security system requires permanently implanted transmitters that are encoded to your DNA, it’s probably evil. Neither the obviously sinister salesman (Paul Sorvino) nor the ominous futuristic all-white installation facility deter disgraced financial manager Henry Sharpe (Grant Bowler) from purchasing this ultra-invasive new technology for his home and requiring his wife, three kids and nanny to all be fitted with pulsating, non-removable sensors. Soon, all the family members start experiencing frequent violent fantasies and fits of anger. The filmmakers’ idea of sending these characters over the edge involves the teenage daughter smoking exactly one joint and getting a tiny heart-shaped tattoo, while her bullied brother takes a couple of weak swings at his tormentors. Eventually the violence escalates a bit, but with its hilariously overstated performances and stilted dialogue, Bad Impulse plays more like an out-of-touch cautionary tale for church youth groups than a dark horror movie. Grade: C-

Modern Persuasion (VOD December 18): There isn’t much of Jane Austen’s wit in this contemporary take on her novel Persuasion, which keeps only the most rudimentary plot details and character types. But it’s a welcome showcase for star Alicia Witt, who’s spent the last decade in the purgatory of Hallmark Christmas movies. Witt plays marketing executive Wren Cosgrove, who’s courted by three equally uninteresting suitors, including the college ex-boyfriend she still hasn’t gotten over. The romance is tepid on all fronts, so it’s hard to take much of a rooting interest in whom Wren will end up with, but Witt is charming and vibrant, and the supporting cast, including reliable veterans Bebe Neuwirth and Mark Moses, sparkles. The filmmakers try a little too hard with Wren’s hashtag-spouting millennial co-workers, and the social media-focused storyline does not have the timeless quality of an Austen tale. It’s pleasant enough along the way, though, providing satisfying romantic resolutions for nearly every character, in the expected Austen manner. Grade: B-

Sister of the Groom (VOD and select theaters December 18): Alicia Silverstone plays a woman undergoing a midlife crisis at her brother’s wedding in this abrasive dramedy. Silverstone’s Audrey has a devoted husband (Tom Everett Scott) and two cute (offscreen) kids, but she’s frustrated at turning 40 without having achieved any real career success and feels like she’s being pushed out of her brother’s life in favor of his much younger wife-to-be, a sexy French singer (Mathilde Ollivier). Audrey treats her incoming sister-in-law with disdain, and the rest of the characters are also varying degrees of terrible, making the wedding weekend as uncomfortable for the viewer as it is for the family. Writer-director Amy Miller Gross introduces potential sources of wacky comedy only to discard them in favor of more downbeat moping and griping from Audrey, whose efforts to sabotage the wedding eventually rise to the level of criminal assault. Even Silverstone’s natural effervescence isn’t enough to make Audrey’s redemption arc convincing. Grade: C

Boys vs. Girls (VOD December 22): Set in 1990, this genial, insubstantial comedy aims to evoke the feel of the summer camp romps of the 1980s, but its tone is too timid and inoffensive to achieve more than occasional chuckles. More Salute Your Shorts than Wet Hot American Summer, Boys vs. Girls takes place during the first summer that the long-running Camp Kindlewood has integrated its boys and girls camps, and naturally the two factions are out to destroy each other. Led by a pair of counselors who are obviously meant to fall in love, the boys and girls taunt each other with mild pranks and toothless insults, while Canadian sketch-comedy icons Colin Mochrie (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and Kevin McDonald (The Kids in the Hall) provide color commentary as flustered members of the camp administration. The movie has a strain of Canadian politeness that makes it hard to dislike, but that same earnest niceness also makes it entirely forgettable. Grade: C+

The One You Feed (VOD December 29): A man ventures into the wilderness to scatter the ashes of his late former lover, and after being attacked by a wild animal, he’s rescued by a mysterious couple who hold him captive at their old-fashioned farmhouse and alternately berate and seduce him. At least that seems to be the plot of this deliberately obtuse meditation on … something, in which the nameless characters deliver sparse, cryptic dialogue that writer/director/star/editor/costume designer/production designer Drew Harwood clearly thinks is profound. The captors (played by Harwood and Rebecca Fraiser) may be brother and sister, or they may be husband and wife, but they are definitely both hot for this injured drifter (Gareth Koorzen). The attempted seductions provide some unintentional comedy (the scene in which raw eggs are used as lube for anal sex is certainly, uh, something), and Harwood spends the entire movie clad in overalls with one strap undone and nothing underneath. His look is as vapid as his movie. Grade: C-

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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