Dwelling (Erin Marie Hogan, Abigail Mary, Mu-Shaka Benson, dir. Kyle Mecca) There's a lot of atmosphere in low-budget horror movie Dwelling, but not much else. The movie opens with a confusing combination of dream sequence and flashback in which Ellie (Erin Marie Hogan) remembers the death of her mother in a house fire (or maybe by drowning or suicide, before the house caught on fire) possibly caused by her disturbed younger sister River. Years later, River (Devanny Pinn) is institutionalized, and Ellie and her husband have custody of River's young daughter Izzy (Abigail Mary). For reasons that I never quite understood, Ellie deliberately moves the family into a well-known haunted house so that she can discover the truth about what happened to her mother, even though the house has nothing to do with her mother's death. Most of the movie consists of standard haunted-house stuff (hidden rooms, strange apparitions, unsettling dreams), much of it focused on an apparently cursed mirror. None of it really explains how or why the house is haunted, how or why that will allow Ellie to understand her mother's death, or how or why it can bring peace to River or Izzy (who is also somehow connected to the spirit world). There are a handful of creepy (but meaningless) images, and Hogan conveys her character's anguish well, but the story never comes together, with an ending as inscrutable and dull as its opening. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.
Girl Flu (Jade Pettyjohn, Katee Sackhoff, Jeremy Sisto, dir. Dorie Barton) I wish I had liked Girl Flu just a little bit more, because it's the kind of indie dramedy we need more of: It's a sweet coming-of-age story about a young girl and her relationship with her single mom, giving a compassionate and sympathetic portrayal to a subject that's often the target of gross-out jokes in mainstream comedies. Tween star Jade Pettyjohn is great as 12-year-old Bird, who's freaking out about getting her first period, among other typical adolescent woes (bullying at school, a crush on a boy, moving away from her childhood home and friends, etc.). Katee Sackhoff, who's known primarily for badass genre roles, shows her range as Bird's screw-up of a mother, but their connection always feels slightly off. There are some nice individual moments, but the pacing is awkward, the supporting characters are too sketchy (Jeremy Sisto's main characterization as Bird's mom's boyfriend is to wear a douchey hat), and the comedy is often weak. The frank approach to the subject matter and Pettyjohn's warm, likable performance are not quite sufficient to make up for the narrative flaws. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.
OtherLife (Jessica De Gouw, Thomas Cocquerel, T.J. Power, dir. Ben C. Lucas) There are some intriguing ideas in the slick Australian sci-fi movie OtherLife, but the execution is a bit lacking. Director and co-writer Ben C. Lucas (working very loosely from a novel by Kelley Eskridge) makes good use of his limited resources, giving the story a sense of scope and ambition even as it takes place mostly in sterile office buildings and apartments. The story starts slowly, establishing the idea of a new technology that implants memories, allowing people to accumulate experiences without actually experiencing them. Eventually the technology's creator, Ren (Jessica De Gouw), ends up the target of some shady power players who use her technology against her, and the movie turns into a thriller that borrows more than a little from Total Recall. The middle of the movie is exciting and unpredictable, but the third act goes back to boring corporate intrigue, and too many of the potentially intriguing plot threads are left hanging. After throwing in some decent (if obvious) twists, Lucas ends on an anticlimactic note, relying on the character relationships rather than the heady sci-fi concepts. De Gouw's performance is strong, but there's not enough of an emotional connection to give the story the impact it's aiming for. Available on Netflix.