Who Do ‘Voodoo’ Not You… If You Value Quality Horror and Your Free Time
You have better things to do for ninety minutes than watch this movie. I guarantee it.
There’s probably a good, disturbing horror film to be made about a young woman who’s cursed through no fault of her own and forced into a literal hellscape. Voodoo is not that movie, despite being about a young woman who’s cursed through no fault of her own and forced into a literal hellscape.
Writer/director Tom Costabile’s feature debut opens with its strongest scene as a woman drags a crying child away from its murdered mother before stabbing the girl to death and rubbing the child’s blood over her own skin. It’s raw and aggressive in stating that what you’re about to watch is as far from Hollywood’s typical PG-13 horror as possible – and then in a blink of an eye it all turns to so much garbage.
The not at all symbolically-named Dani Lamb (Samantha Stewart) arrives in Los Angeles hoping to put a recent trauma from back home in New Orleans behind her. Between her mom’s recent passing and a violent encounter with her boyfriend’s wife she’s ready to start over, and with the comfort of her cousin Stacy (Ruth Reynolds) by her side she sets out to enjoy the West coast. She experiences the high of meeting Ron Jeremy to the low of being harassed by a street vendor, but it’s at night where previously unseen evils reveal themselves in the darkness. A glowing-eyed demon stands snarling over her bed while another blocks a hall, with nowhere else to run she descends into a hell clearly marked with signs on the wall.
Did I mention that everything beyond the intro is essentially found footage? (Although now that I say that the intro’s use of framing and POV could indicate that it too is supposed to be FF, which would honestly make as much sense as the rest of it.) I don’t want this entire critique to focus on how detrimental FF typically is, but there are some specific elements that need to be called out.
Dani is supposedly making this video to share with her father when she returns to Louisiana, so I guess my first question would be why she intentionally films a guy she just met finger-banging her through her jeans? She does the usual FF activities of filming when no one in the real world would, both when nothing’s happening and when her world has become a nightmare, and it’s the latter that feels absolutely ridiculous. She’s being chased, her friends are dead or demonized around her, and yet even as she’s panicked and screaming she makes sure to set the camera down more than once so that it captures the action just right. It’s finally out of her hands when she descends into hell, and instead “something” else takes over cinematographer duties. One of the demonic denizens even stares into the camera for several seconds, taunting the viewer with a torch.
“No matter what I do my past just follows me wherever I go,” says Dani early on, but rather than explore the ongoing cost of past decisions or the guilt associated with poor choices Costabile instead seems only interested in making her suffer. She screams, endlessly, but never tries to fight back during her tour through the devil’s playground – and while the set design and atmosphere resemble a Halloween Hell House set up by a poorly-funded Baptist church who confused hell for medieval times I don’t think it’s because she signed a waiver. All manner of context-free horrors play out before her including a priest being berated, a baby torn from a pregnant belly and eaten, a pervy uncle telling her she’s next, and worse.
There’s even a rape sequence that by all logic should be horrific but which instead resembles nothing worse than a demon jock auditioning for a consensual sex scene in a Hardbodies reboot.
To be clear, while a low budget contributed to both the bargain basement hellscape and the use of FF (not to mention some distracting optical effects), the budget is not to blame for Voodoo’s real shortcomings. Time spent getting to know Dani quickly grows repetitive and dull, we’re constantly left wondering why this or that scene is being filmed at all, and possible themes of karmic justice and guilt are squandered. It’s never scary or unsettling – even as hell’s demons and blacksmiths (?) commit vile acts before her and our eyes – and the weight of it all simply never comes across onscreen.
Who do Voodoo? Not you if you’re lucky.
Voodoo opens on VOD and in limited theatrical release on February 24th.