Amber Heard in the thriller "In the Fire."
CNN  — 

Those who fell victim to the over-the-top animosity directed at Amber Heard during the Johnny Depp trial – as chronicled in the docuseries “Depp v. Heard” – will alas have fresh ammunition thanks to “In the Fire,” a pretty awful starring vehicle for the actor that she also produced, a film unlikely to produce many sparks beyond those set off by the morbidly curious.

Shot as an Italian-American co-production on what looks like a minimal budget, the movie makes its debut simultaneously in theaters and on digital and demand, a logical strategy, since the theatrical toehold should quickly go up in flames.

Set in the 1890s, the film stars Heard as a New York doctor, Grace Burnham, who journeys to a small and remote plantation in an distant location where she has come to treat a young boy, Martin (Lorenzo McGovern Zaini). The locals have come to believe the child is some sort of demon, bringing ill fortune to their village.

Grace – an alienist, the term employed before it became known as psychiatry – allows that the boy is different but rejects any supernatural explanation, telling his skeptical father (Eduardo Noriega) and a caring priest (Luca Calvani), “It is a matter of science, and we’ll solve it as one.”

Yet other than mismatched eyes, the questions of exactly what makes the lad different remain sketchy and a source of not-terribly-compelling mystery: Possessed? Mutant? Some kind of ESP or telekinesis?

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Unfortunately, there’s not much time to find out, since the villagers, led by another clergyman (Yari Gugliucci), are already in a storm-the-place-with-pitchforks state of mind, setting up the prospect of a violent encounter.

As directed by Conor Allyn (who shares script credit with two others), the movie limps from one interlude to the next. Heard’s performance can charitably be described as stiff and thinly developed, except for those moments when she erupts in righteous fury over the backwardness of Martin’s would-be tormenters.

Heard has made more news in courtrooms than on screens since co-starring in “Aquaman” in 2018. The sequel to that DC superhero franchise is due later this year, though the size of her role based on the trailer has become a matter of speculation.

Whatever one’s opinion of Heard – and after the trial lots of people seem to have formed them, however potentially ill informed – her acting career will clearly receive extra scrutiny because of her time in the tabloids.

Generating publicity for a little movie that otherwise might have come and gone with scant notice represents a classic double-edged sword. “In the Fire” didn’t have to be great to stoke those embers, but in terms of capitalizing on the attention, the film needed to be a whole lot better than this.

“In the Fire” premieres October 13 in select theaters, on demand and on digital. It’s rated R.