‘The Clovehitch Killer’
Dylan McDermott makes one sinister Scoutmaster in “The Clovehitch Killer,” a serial murder mystery that critiques the inherent creepiness of suburban conformity. First-time feature director Duncan Skiles brings some spooky atmosphere to a smart script by Christopher Ford, whose previous movie “Cop Car” was similarly fascinated by the dark secrets of Middle American authority figures.
Charlie Plummer plays Tyler Burnside, a high-schooler in a conservative Christian town that every year commemorates — but won’t talk about — a series of bondage-themed slayings that happened a decade earlier. One night, while out with his girl in the family truck, Tyler finds a crumpled photo of extreme S&M porn and begins wondering if his Eagle Scout dad, Donald (McDermott), has been making extracurricular use of his knot-tying skills.
“The Clovehitch Killer” is divided into three parts. In the first, Tyler and true-crime-obsessed misfit teen Kassi (Madisen Beaty) poke around the Burnside house, finding more evidence that points to Don as a psycho. The second follows Don over the course of a couple of days, silently observing his strange behavior. The third flashes back, filling in gaps in the story.
Skiles keeps the film’s pacing slow, which at times builds tension, at times makes everything feel more off-kilter, and at times is … well, just slow. Mostly the director and his superb cast use the extra time to explore the nuances of Ford’s tale of sick compulsions and social pressures.
The movie gets a big boost from McDermott, who talks like a buddy-buddy youth pastor and who tries to throw his son off his trail by confessing to minor sins, like his secret stash of cherry cola and his occasional lustful urges (which he refers to as “just monkey stuff … can’t control it”).
The cleverest, most disturbing point “Clovehitch” makes is that in a community where just acknowledging the existence of sex is frowned upon, everyone tends to look the other way while their so-called moral leaders get away with murder — figuratively and literally.
‘The Clovehitch Killer’
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 16, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD
In writer-director Vladimir de Fontenay’s indie drama “Mobile Homes,” Imogen Poots and Callum Turner play Ali and Evan, a pair of lovesick outlaws who travel the snowy north, skipping out on motel and diner bills while trafficking in drugs and gamecocks. They’re having a wild adventure — or would be, if they weren’t saddled with Ali’s 8-year-old son, Bone (Frank Oulton).
“Mobile Homes” is mostly a scruffy slice-of-life until about halfway through, when a desperate Ali and Bone hide in a prefab house, which ends up getting hooked to a truck and hauled a few hundred miles away. What follows are a series of fairly contrived dilemmas, as Ali abruptly makes an effort to be a mom, not a moll.
But while the story’s a little shaky, Poots is outstanding; and de Fontenay has a terrific eye for the details of a drifter’s life, shuffling from hovel to hovel, never able to scrape up enough cash to sleep comfortably. The frame is haunted by images of houses — where these characters can squat for a night but never really hope to live.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 16, Laemmle Glendale, Glendale
The team of writer Isa Mazzei and writer-director Daniel Goldhaber bring a bit of Roman Polanski-esque paranoia to the savvy erotic thriller “Cam,” an at-times too-elusive but overall engaging peek behind the curtain at the lives of “cam girls.” Mazzei’s own experiences with performing sexually explicit shows on the internet for tips informs a story that’s frank and sympathetic, never shaming or exploitative.
Madeline Brewer is fantastic as Alice, a sweet-natured yet shrewdly ambitious cammer, who in her online persona as “Lola” combines nudity with a bubbly personality, creative concepts for shows, and a willingness to take dares from her audience. One morning — right when she’s on the verge of becoming a permanent fixture in her site’s Top 50 — Alice wakes up to find that there’s another Lola, who looks and acts just like her, using her account and getting her money.
On a narrative level, Mazzei and Goldhaber don’t come up with enough ideas for how to capitalize on their hooky premise. But on a character level? The filmmakers and Brewer capture the mounting existential anxiety of a woman who’s constructed an entire identity on-line and is horrified to see that it can keep on living without her.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 16 on Netflix; opens Nov. 23, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood
Strong lead performances by Aaron Paul and Emily Ratajkowski are squandered in “Welcome Home,” a low-tension suspense picture with pretensions of saying something profound about broken relationships. Veteran director George Ratliff and screenwriter David Levinson have made a film that looks handsome but feels pompous and empty — like the massive Italian rental villa where it’s set.
Whenever “Welcome Home” sticks to scares — insinuating that some mysterious local sicko has perverse plans for the bickering tourists played by Paul and Ratajkowski — the movie’s modestly effective. But too much screen time is given over to the couple’s chronic trust-issues, making this more of a dreary romantic melodrama than the intense thriller it keeps promising to become.
Rated: R, for sexual content including graphic images, nudity, language and some violence
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 16 on VOD
The story of notorious Miami speedboat magnate Donald Aranow becomes fodder for a middling, sub-sub-“Goodfellas” underworld drama in “Speed Kills,” with John Travolta playing Ben Aronoff, a lightly fictionalized version of Aranow. The star’s as loose and energetic as he’s been on-screen in a while, but even he can’t heat up these leftovers.
Like the man he’s based on, Ben Aronoff rubs elbows with George H.W. Bush (Matthew Modine) and gangster Meyer Lansky (James Remar) before getting into trouble with both the mob and the law when his boats become the Florida drug-runners’ vehicle of choice. But at every turn in “Speed Kills,” director Jodi Scurfield and a team of screenwriters sand the edges off a complicated, multi-decade saga, making a featureless knockoff of seemingly every sweeping true-crime movie of the past three decades.
Rated: R, for language, some violence and drug material
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 16, Laemmle Glendale; also on VOD