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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor  [January 13, 2017]






[]  VooDoo is an odd film, in that it feels like two different films grafted together. Grafted, as in forcibly joined, because the first 40 plus minutes does not necessarily lead into the final half hour.

VooDoo's first segment feels like a found footage film, though it's not clear that it is a found footage film. A young woman, Dani (Samantha Stewart), arrives in Los Angeles from New Orleans. As is typical of found footage films, Dani records the boring minutia of her journey, from gushing vapid excitement over being in Union Station, to asking her cab driver about all the celebrities he's driven while they're stuck in traffic "on the famous 101 freeway."

I guess this is an inside joke for us Angelinos -- see the dumb tourist hick, so exited about being stuck in L.A. traffic.

Dani is met at the Hollywood Hills home of her friend, Stacey (Ruth Reynolds). Then follows a not especially original, entertaining, or scary series of scenes about these two dumb, slutty, drunken women, hooting and whooping and partying as they bar hop and hook up with hot guys. They do all the L.A. tourist things -- the Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theater, and Venice Beach. Yes, we can see that VooDoo was shot on location! in Los Angeles. Not that it makes for a better horror film.

The problem with found footage films is that it provides an excuse for -- and thus encourages -- low effort. Filmmakers often take little care with composition, lighting, or sound quality, on the rationale that, because it's a "home movie" shot on real-life locations, it makes sense for camera angles and lighting to be rough. Likewise, actors often improvise (poorly) their dialog, on the rationale that they should sound like "real people." But rather than achieving an engaging vérité authenticity, the end result often feels lazy, sloppy, and boring.



VooDoo's first segment suffers from these typical found footage flaws, making for a mostly dull 40 minutes. There are a few (too few) minor shocks and talk of voodoo that liven up things. We slowly learn that Dani's boyfriend in New Orleans was married to a voodoo priestess, that she put a curse on Dani, and that she's coming to L.A. to seek out Dani for who knows what reason.

I said VooDoo feels like a found footage film. I'm not sure that it is, at least not consistently. At times, though the camera is moving, it's not clear who, if anyone, is holding it. At times we see events from Dani's point of view, yet it's not clear that she's picked up the camera. At times we hear dialog from the previous scene, though we're seeing events in the next scene (a sound bridge). Even so, most of VooDoo's first segment is clearly found footage, and the questionable scenes share an identical found footage vérité sloppiness, making for a curious aesthetic.



Some 42 minutes into the story, VooDoo becomes an entirely different film. -- Spoiler Alert -- Dani awakes to drumming noises. She goes downstairs to investigate and finds a voodoo ceremony in Stacey's living room. Whereupon Dani is dragged down into Hell.

The final half hour follows Dani in Hell. (Like Dante in Inferno?) Art director Adam Rettino provides us with a classical depiction of Hell. A series of caverns saturated in red light (sometimes making it difficult to discern events on screen), with fiery torches, medieval torturers clad in leather and mail, and feral demons feasting on human flesh. Dani is chained and tortured, then taken from cavern to cavern, where she witnesses new horrors, and is finally raped by Satan himself.




There is little dialog in this, VooDoo's second segment. It's mostly screaming, snarling, and begging. When Dani's not being tortured herself, she sees demons tormenting and raping and branding their victims, aborting and eating live babies (as in Anthropophagus, but quicker and cheesier than in that Italian masterpiece), and eating old women. The overall effect is that of a Halloween haunted house ride, where we, the ticket buyers, shuttle from room to room, watching the actors perform their grand guignol roles.



Dani's sudden descent into Hell comes as a shocking surprise, and VooDoo's second segment is lively and entertaining. The demons are frenzied and feral, and appear to be inspired by Evil Dead.

Why is Dani in Hell? Presumably, she died because of the voodoo priestess's curse. But by what action was Dani condemned to Hell? No evil person can condemn an innocent to Hell (though that conceit was used, too casually, in Drag Me to Hell). Events in VooDoo suggest that Dani had been molested by her father, and that she'd had an abortion. Was that her sin? Or was the curse enough to send her to Hell? The film doesn't clearly say.




Oddly, even the scenes in Hell look like a found footage film. Video glitches occasionally obscure the image, as if we're watching a videotape shot in Hell. But who was holding the camera? Certainly not Dani.

VooDoo was written and directed by Tom Costabile.


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