Dani (Samantha Stewart) is a jolly, pretty young woman from New Orleans who decides to visit her cousin Stacy (Ruth Reynolds) in Los Angeles. Her life has had some complications of late and, with her father's blessing, she's taking a one-month break from life in the south. Oh, and she's brought a digital camera along with her, so she can document as much of her holiday as possible...
Upon arriving in LA, Dani travels by taxi to Stacy's house in the Hollywood hills, she’s immediately enamoured by her cousin's cool-seeming friends, her house with its own pool, and so on. Stacy takes her turn holding the camera, leaving Dani free to excitedly bounce around her cousin's home. Ooh, pot on display! Wow, voodoo charms! Blimey, huge rooms! Awesome, a comfy bed and a bedroom with an en suite bathroom! Yes, Dani is easily impressed.
Without further ado, Stacy lures Dani into the pool and introduces her to her friends. After a spot of chat about titties and the like, they decide to head out into town on the evening - specifically, to the Rainbow Bar & Grill where Dani is propositioned by none other than porn legend Ron Jeremy.
The following day the girls fight off their hangovers with a trip to the beach.
They're having a great time generally, but there are a couple of notable things which occur during these frivolities: Dani reveals that she's recently split up with a married man, and that his wife Serafine (Constance Strickland) professes to be a voodoo priestess and claims to have placed a curse on Dani; Dani is accosted by an African-America lady on the beach, who tries to sell her protective charms before reading her palm and hurriedly shooing her away; Stacy's body mysteriously vanishes momentarily while sunbathing then returns, leaving her and Dani with no recollection of this happening.
Without the ceaselessly upbeat girls even realising it, things are starting to get strange. Though when the penny eventually starts to drop, Dani does suspect that Serafine has followed her to LA. She'd best hope not, as we the viewer have already witnessed what Serafine is capable of during a disembodied prologue involving a spot of gory infanticide.
Up to this point in VOODOO, everything has been rather polite. The video diary-style filming serves little purpose other than the occasional comments of dialogue aimed directly to the camera (Dani's personal messages to her father, which serve to fill in narrative blanks here and there). The horror elements have been kept held back, and we've basically been watching two gregarious young women have a whale of a time.
But then, 40 minutes into proceedings, Dani is awoken in the dead of night by the sound of drums. She assumes Stacy is having a party downstairs. But, upon exploring, she finds something quite different: in the living room downstairs, she happens upon a pentagram painted in blood on the floor, surrounded by candles. Worse still, a figure in black growls at her.
Fleeing to her bedroom, Dani is understandably terrified. And this is where the film dramatically changes tone, as when she next ventures downstairs the walls are covered in graffiti which is introducing her, very literally, to Hell.
I'll not spoil the fun of the last 40 minutes, but it's fair to say that VOODOO is very much a film of two halves. If the first coaxes you in, perhaps leaving you to remark that though its characters are likeable and well-written there's little of note going on, the second half - much lighter on dialogue, if we don't include the incessant screams - is more of a surreal, gory, perverse nightmare. And, if you can forget about who's supposed to be holding the digital camera by this time (yes, everything is still being filmed, complete with very occasional video glitches); this final act really does deliver in terms of over-the-top thrills.
Okay, the budget is clearly limited, but a combination of crisp HD photography (the RED camera was employed for that agreeable cinematic finish) and solid, amiable performances push VOODOO on. The red-hued, cavernous production design of later scenes is highly atmospheric too.
Clearly a film of two halves, then, and without question a movie that forces you to challenge the extent of its attention to technical detail. But VOODOO works because it's always attractive to behold, is never dull, is populated by agreeable characters, and takes a nose-first dive into literal Hell just when you're least expecting it.
Written and directed by Tom Costabile, there's enough in evidence here to suggest he has potential to produce something of real substance in the future. VOODOO is fun and amiable for the most part, then surprisingly heady during its final act - but it is undeniably lacking in substance. It entertains while it lasts, but says too little to linger in the mind for long afterwards.
Having said that, it comes with my recommendation.
VOODOO is enjoying a limited theatrical run in America during February and March of 2017, with proposed DVD and VoD availability following shortly afterwards. Check it out.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Tom Costabile|