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Reviews: Creature feature ‘Dead Ant,’ Spanish thriller ‘Ánimas’ and more

Tom Arnold (Danny) in a scene from “Dead Aunt.” Credit: Cinedigm
Tom Arnold in the movie “Dead Ant.”
(Cinedigm)

‘Dead Ant’

The tongue-in-cheek monster movie “Dead Ant” declares its allegiance to the cause of B-picture sleaze in its first five minutes, which show a young woman taking hallucinogenic drugs, stripping nude, and running for her life through the desert, just ahead of a bloodthirsty giant insect.

What follows is an hour-plus of drug humor, scantily clad ladies and big bugs. The film is unapologetically “low art” … yet fun, in its own way.

Written and directed by exploitation vet Ron Carlson, “Dead Ant” follows the misadventures of forgotten ’80s hair-metal band Sonic Grave, which has survived on the festival circuit thanks to one fluke hit power ballad. When the group’s manager (played by Tom Arnold) books them at an off-brand Coachella (called “No-chella”), they decide to take some strong dope and cook up new songs. When they’re at their most wrecked, the massive killer ants begin to attack.

Carlson has no illusions about what kind of movie he’s making. Nearly every minute is filled with some combination of jiggling cleavage, splattering insect guts, and corny jokes about rock ’n’ roll losers. “Dead Ant” isn’t exactly clever — not even by the modest standards of other high-spirited creature features such as “Tremors” or “Anaconda.”

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But Carlson does swiftly and skillfully move the story toward a surprisingly spectacular finish; and his cast (including Sean Astin and Jake Busey) look like they’re all having a ball. This isn’t a “so bad it’s good” kind of experience. It’s a “better that you’d expect” one.

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‘Dead Ant’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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‘Ánimas’

Iv?n Pellicer and Clare Durant in a scene from the movie “Animas.” Credit: Netflix
Iván Pellicer and Clare Durant in the movie "Ánimas.”
(Netflix)

The Spanish spook show “Ánimas” is so powerfully atmospheric that it barely matters when the rest of the picture turns out to be a bit sparse. Co-writers/co-directors Laura Alvea and José F. Ortuño borrow freely from old masters like Alfred Hitchcock and Jacques Tourneur and modern genre heroes like Guillermo del Toro and J.A. Bayona, for a mostly gripping movie that values mood and sensation over coherent storytelling.

Clare Durant and Iván Pellicer play Alex and Abraham, two longtime friends trying to play it cool as high school graduation approaches, while privately dealing with a lot of stress. Abraham has a volatile home life, while Alex indulges in self-harm, cutting herself with razor blades and scalding herself with hot water. When they start getting haunted by shadowy figures, these pals can’t immediately distinguish this particular nightmare from what they go through daily.

Alvea and Ortuño don’t always seem so sure either. A big mid-movie death and a climactic switcheroo seem to indicate a deeper sense of purpose. But from moment to moment, the strange case of Alex and Abraham only matters for what it allows the filmmakers to do: overhead shots, optical zooms, super-impositions, and dramatic lighting. “Ánimas” is a sort of ghost story, but the spirits here are mostly just visiting from other films.

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‘Ánimas’

In Spanish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Launches Jan. 25 on Netflix

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‘The Final Wish’

Aaron (Michael Welch) in a scene from “The Final Wish.” opens in select theaters across the U.S. on
Michael Welch in the movie “The Final Wish.”
(Cinedigm)

Prolific director Timothy Woodward Jr. and “Final Destination” screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick take a crack at the old “be careful what you wish for” premise with their supernatural thriller “The Final Wish.” Michael Welch gives a solid performance as the hero, Aaron — a sad-sack unemployed lawyer, given a “monkey’s paw”-like chance to fulfill a limited number of his biggest dreams — but the plot is ultimately too predictable for anyone who’s seen the likes of “Pet Sematary” or “Wish Upon.”

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The film’s biggest issue is its balance between setup and payoff. Woodward and company spend too much time establishing Aaron’s mundane problems: his romantic failures, his career setbacks, et cetera. By the time “The Final Wish” gets to the much more effective suspense sequences — and the enjoyably perverse twists — it’s too little and too late. Cult movie favorites Lin Shaye and Tony Todd bring some juice to their small roles; but for the most part this is like a decent anthology TV series episode, stretched to three times its proper length.

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‘The Final Wish’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Playing: Starts Jan. 25 in limited release

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‘Goodnight, Charlene’

Daniel Ross Owens in a scene from “Goodnight, Charlene.” Credit: Indie Rights
Daniel Ross Owens in the movie “Goodnight, Charlene.”
(Indie Rights)

Chris Zuhdi’s Texas neo-noir “Goodnight, Charlene” has the right set of influences: Jim Thompson novels and the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple,” to name two. But the writer-director and his cast and crew are working on too modest a scale to make the picture pop. The film doesn’t just look cheap; it looks like most of it was shot in the same under-lighted room, with different wall decorations.

Daniel Ross Owen plays the archetypal noir antihero, Billy, who helps his married mistress Charlene (Melanie San Millan) hatch a plot to kill her husband Charlie (Zuhdi), only to find that a whole Texas town full of rogues is getting involved in their series of crosses and double-crosses.

Zuhdi’s story is ambitious; and there’s something poignant about the way these characters’ roundabout schemes keep pushing them further away from what they really want. But the audience rarely gets to see these plans play out. We just watch the characters sit still and talk, as though if they got up and actually did something this whole ramshackle movie would collapse around them.

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‘Goodnight, Charlene’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

Playing: Starts Jan. 25, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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‘The Bounty Killer’

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Crispian Belfrage in the movie “The Bounty Killer.”
(Indican Pictures)

It’s rare these days for low-budget genre filmmakers to make westerns, so “The Bounty Killer” writer-director Chip Baker and his writer-producer partner Danny Garcia deserve some credit for digging out the cowboy outfits, saddling up the horses and galloping around the same Spanish sets that Sergio Leone once used. Their story of a nameless, broken man (played by Crispian Belfrage) — hired to track a Mexican land baron’s missing daughter — recalls the heydays of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

Or at least it wants to. Though the locations and the cast look just right, the rudimentary story and draggy pace makes this movie more of a western “exercise.” The classic oaters had a sense of style, and something to say about the morally ambiguous compromises of American history. Even with its currently relevant Anglo/Mexican milieu, “The Bounty Killer” is mostly just a paltry re-creation of the past, lacking its own life and meaning.

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‘The Bounty Killer’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Starts Jan, 25, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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