When Dani, an innocent southern girl, vacations to Los Angeles to evade her increasingly complicated life, she learns that escaping her past isn't as easy as she hoped.
February 24, 2017
Samantha Stewart as Dani Lamb
Ruth Reynolds as Stacy Cole
Dominic Matteucci as Spencer Boyd
Daniel Kozul as Trey Neil
VooDoo is f*#king bonkers, man. The nearest comparison I can possibly make is to the 1960 Nobuo Nakagawa film Jigoku, (English title The Sinners of Hell). But the similarities are really only subject matter and story structure. Jigoku is a masterpiece from another time in film history. VooDoo is a found footage film with B-movie sensibilities, with many scenes that look terribly “film school”. But the hook is weird, and weirdly intriguing. Basically, what if someone took a camcorder to hell?
Twentysomething girl with filmmaking aspirations Dani Lamb, (Samantha Stewart), sojourns from New Orleans to Los Angeles to stay with her childhood friend Stacy, (Ruth Reynolds, another actress with an alliterative name). Because this is a found footage joint, Dani feels the need to document every aspect of her vacation, including many a whiskey shot and one-night stand. She and her friend Stacy are very much hard-partying hippie types, (a sleazy cameo by the incomparable Ron Jeremy does take place early on).
Dani voices some regrets about her hedonistic lifestyle. She just got out of a relationship with a married man after aborting his baby, (Dani claims she was unaware he was married). The wife found out about the affair, confronted Dani at her place of work in New Orleans, and put a Voodoo curse on her. This piece of backstory is given during an emotional interchange between Dani and Stacy. Both actresses showcase the fakest Louisiana accents I have ever heard. It’s a minor gripe, I suppose. There are bigger ones to come.
These ladies are tramps, but they’re in denial. They engage in one-night stands, all the while pining for committed relationships. They lust after Tiffany diamonds, all the while admonishing the “ritzy elite” of California. The dichotomy between materialism and spiritualism is a central theme. The idea that there are cosmic proportions to life, beyond the tangible. That forms the breadth of the film, and it’s an ice cold bucket of water in the face. If there are consequences, then maybe morality exists. There’s nothing scarier than that.
Then at the halfway mark, the movie officially loses its mind. There is a story twist that could either be classified as brave or ridiculous, depending on your point of view. For my part, I found it refreshing. More often than not, found footage films err on the side of banality for the sake of “realism”. Cloverfield treated us to tedious scenes of grocery shopping for the sake of realism, (or maybe for the sake of product placement). Then when the monster appeared, nothing was ever truly, satisfyingly shown on camera, all for the sake of “realism”. VooDoo doesn’t play dirty tricks in that way. All the visual horror is on full display. The problem is most of it isn’t convincing.
Samantha Stewart’s part is clearly a difficult one for any actor. Writer-director Tom Costabile subjects her to more than half an hour of pure torture, both psychological and predominantly physical. The filming must have been taxing. The found footage conceit means long, unbroken shots of Dani wandering the corridors of hell. She is poked, prodded, punched, forced to eat fake baby fetuses, stripped naked, and ultimately raped by Satan himself. All while the Voodoo witch, who originally cursed her, commandeers her camcorder to capture the ultimate snuff film. Unfortunately, it’s the actress who looks uncomfortable in these scenes. I felt sorry for her.
The effects range from Clive Barker Hellraiser-level of depravity to borderline amateurish. The hellish minions resemble college students putting on a haunted house attraction in their dorm basement. It comes off almost as a parody, but then suddenly there is disembowelment and sodomy. Costabile might think he is being daring and provocative, but the problem is an inconsistency of tone. The world-building is never fully realized, and the story’s rising action doesn’t rise properly. To have the first half of your movie be a traditional found footage snooze fest, and then immediately pivot into Dante’s Inferno doesn’t work.
The ultimate result is a strange, half-baked confection. One that I am more inclined to applaud in conception than execution. A found footage film depicting a completely fantastical world, in this case Hell, is a genuinely interesting idea. Creating that through physical effects is also interesting. But every production department has to bring its A-Game, otherwise there is no suspension of disbelief. Watching a guy in Stan Winston-level Satan makeup sit on a throne that looks like it was borrowed from the Las Vegas Tournament of Kings just doesn’t work. VooDoo also falls into the typical weaknesses of the found footage genre. You are constantly asking yourself who is operating the camera, and more importantly why.
VooDoo will be released on February 24, 2017. Despite a few genuinely effective scares in the first half, as well as a rather refreshing premise, the disjointed narrative does not work well.