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VOD reviews: ‘The Haunting of Sharon Tate’ is sleazy exploitation, but ‘The Wind’ is one to see

(L-R) Bella Popa as Sadie and Hillary Duff as Sharon Tate in the Saban Films? thriller THE HAUNTING
Bella Popa, left, as Sadie and Hilary Duff as Sharon Tate in the Saban Films thriller “The Haunting of Sharon Tate.”
(Saban Films)

Welcome to our weekly roundup of new genre films available on video-on-demand. This week’s titles include a psychological thriller worth seeking out (“The Wind”), a satisfyingly gnarly low budget man-versus-monster movie (“The Head Hunter”) and an exploitation thriller that uses a famous real-life murder to questionable dramatic ends (“The Haunting of Sharon Tate”).

‘The Wind’

Caitlin Gerard gives a riveting performance in “The Wind,” an ambitious but unwieldy fusion of supernatural horror and 19th century frontier drama. Director Emma Tammi and screenwriter Teresa Sutherland over-complicate their narrative structure, but Gerard helps keep the movie focused on what it’s really about: the creeping madness which seizes someone who’s totally isolated.

Gerard plays Lizzy Macklin, who lives with her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), on a small farm on the American plains. Their nearest neighbors are a young couple, Emma and Gideon Harper (Julia Goldani Telles and Miles Anderson), who live well beyond shouting distance.

Early on, “The Wind” suggests the Macklins were once quite happy, raising food by day and lustily trying to make a baby at night. But Isaac’s many trips away from the farm — and the incessant sound of the wind, whipping across the vast emptiness surrounding their home — leaves Lizzy feeling exposed and under attack, perhaps by one of the evil spirits she’s read about in the books on her shelf.

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Caitlin Gerard in a scene from “The Wind.” Credit: IFC Midnight
Caitlin Gerard in a scene from “The Wind.”
(IFC Midnight)

Tammi and Sutherland contrast the way life used to be for Lizzy with the paranoid, violent woman she later becomes. The jumbled chronology doesn’t really work; it feels like the filmmakers are just going out of their way to keep the audience in the dark about whether the heroine genuinely has reason to be anxious.

But “The Wind” is ultimately more allegorical than literal. It’s not about history, or pioneer life, or bloodthirsty ghosts. It’s about a loneliness so overwhelming that it becomes terrifying.

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‘The Wind’

Rating: R, for violence/disturbing images, and some sexuality

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: In general release; also on VOD

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‘The Head Hunter’

There’s a refreshing simplicity to “The Head Hunter,” a brutal fantasy film that pits a vengeful Viking (played by Christopher Rygh) against a succession of mythological beasts. Director/co-writer Jordan Downey and his writing/producing partner Kevin Stewart keep their running-time short, their dialogue to a minimum, and their plot stripped-down. In a series of gory vignettes, the hero gets assignments from an unseen archer, then straps on armor and heads out into the wilds to behead another monster.

In between kills, the warrior visits his daughter’s grave, while waiting for the chance to take out the creature who killed her. Most of the second half of “The Head Hunter” is devoted to that quest, which plays out slowly, with a few sick twists. There’s not much to this movie: just stunning outdoor locations, a soulful Rygh performance, and some raw sword-and-sorcery action. That’s more than enough.

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‘The Head Hunter’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Playing: Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; also on VOD

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‘The Haunting of Sharon Tate’

Anyone who’s worried that Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might exploit the real-life victims of the murderous Manson Family should steer well clear of writer-director Daniel Farrands’ “The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” which turns the Manson cult’s crimes into fodder for a sleazy B-thriller.

Hilary Duff gives a good performance as Sharon Tate, the promising young actress who was slaughtered in the summer of 1969, while pregnant with Roman Polanski’s baby. Duff brings a tragic dimension to the role of a women who sensed the danger coming her way, but was ignored by her friends.

“The Haunting of Sharon Tate” is framed as quasi-fictional, right down to a morally questionable “what if?” ending. But otherwise it’s a run-of-the-mill home invasion thriller, and while Farrands is a solid genre craftsman — as evidenced by his similarly creepy true-crime film from earlier this year, “The Amityville Murders” — his taste remains suspect.

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‘The Haunting of Sharon Tate’

Rating: R, for strong bloody violence, terror, and some language

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: AMC Rolling Hills 20, Torrance; also on VOD

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‘Division 19’

A scene from the movie “Division 19.” Credit: Uncork’d Entertainment
A scene from the movie “Division 19.”
(Uncork’d Entertainment)

There’s more attention paid to world-building than to plot in “Division 19,” a dystopian science-fiction thriller that never finds a clear narrative path. The film starts by introducing a near-future world, where the dominant form of entertainment is a kind of interactive pay-per-view penitentiary, in which the populace controls what convicted criminals do. Then writer-director S.A. Halewood disappears into the weeds, losing sight of her story as she explores the society outside the prison walls.

It doesn’t help that Halewood’s hero — one of this culture’s biggest celebrity cons, played by Jamie Draven — lacks personality. It’s hard to see why the public would clamor to watch him, or why various rebel factions would hustle to spring him. The major failing of “Division 19” is that it’s just too busy, bouncing between corporate boardrooms, jail cells and insurgent camps, as though Halewood were trying to squeeze an entire season of a SyFy original TV series into 90 minutes.

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‘Division 19’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Blood Craft’

The revenge thriller “Blood Craft” goes to some uncommonly uncomfortable places for an el-cheapo horror movie, which would be more laudable if director/co-writer James Cullen Bressack had better command of his material. Any film that uses child sexual abuse as a hook should have a higher purpose than just cheap shocks and gothic camp.

Madeleine Wade (Bressack’s co-writer) stars as Grace Hall, a sex worker who returns to her childhood home after her father’s death, and is persuaded by her sister Serena (Augie Duke) to perform a ritual to bring their perverted old man back to life, so they can punish him for being a drunken pedophile.

Wade and Bressack parcel out the disturbing details of Minister Hall’s abusive behavior, in ways that get more and more stomach-turningly lurid. For the most part, “Blood Craft” is just clunky, overlong supernatural horror, but with a premise that some may find unforgivably tacky.

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‘Blood Craft’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Available April 9 on VOD

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