VOODOO (2017)

Voodoo.jpg

Studio:       Freestyle Digital Media
Director:    Tom Costabile
Writer:       Tom Costabile
Producer:  Tom Costabile
Stars:     Samantha Stewart, Ruth Reynolds, Dominic Matteucci, Daniel Kozul, Constance Strickland, Jennifer Buttell, Timothy Patrick O’Neill, Lavelle Roby, Jared Degado

Review Score:


Summary:

A young woman’s Los Angeles vacation becomes a literal trip to Hell after she is cursed by a voodoo priestess.


Synopsis:     

Review:

No bones about it, “Voodoo” is bad.  But “Voodoo” is so wildly misconceived from idea to execution that it almost, almost, has ironic value as a batty curiosity of bizarreness.

New Orleans native Dani recently discovered her beloved boyfriend is actually married.  Worse, his wife is a voodoo priestess and the witchy woman is none too pleased to hear her house has a homewrecker.  After a workplace confrontation involving expletives, accusations, and an old fashioned curse, Dani decided the best way of divorcing herself from the drama is to visit her cousin in California, and film the entire girls getaway as a travelogue for her dad.

It’s doubtful that dad would be interested in watching his daughter smoke weed in an Uber, get groped by a just-met man, or grind on a pornstar (Ron Jeremy in a cameo that might be out of tone if the movie had one) after shooting some whiskey.  It’s doubtful that a horror-hungry audience would be interested either, yet that is what comprises the front half of this “found footage” affair.

Routine hedonism is one thing.  The Hollywood tour is another.

“Voodoo’s” overlong trip through popular SoCal spots might find some favor with vicarious viewers interested in seeing such sights.  Speaking as a 20-year veteran of Los Angeles living, I can only say that I avoid tourist tar pits such as Hollywood & Highland or Venice Beach like the proverbial plague.  As in reality, suffering through their onscreen equivalents is a clock-watching slog to when I may mercifully leave.

Usually, “found footage” movies stutter when actors improvise scenes.  An inexperienced cast often doesn’t have the chops to create an authentically organic scene on the fly, much less advance a properly plotted story without direction.

Props to “Voodoo” then for having some sort of script instead of only an outline.  Though this film has the opposite issue of its dialogue reading as so rehearsed, nearly nothing sounds natural.  Star Samantha Stewart also carelessly goes in and out of her N’awlins drawl (an accent she doesn’t need to bother with in the first place) as often as a hungry hand hits a popcorn bucket at the movies.  All of this makes any immersive illusion that “Voodoo” might seem real, the first requirement of “found footage,” entirely nonextant.

That’s only the iceberg tip of how “Voodoo” takes the cake of conceits making no sense for a first-person format.  If you’ve ever been confounded by the question of “who is still shooting this and why?” during a “found footage” film, just wait until “Voodoo’s” back half.

Her ho-hum Hollywood holiday having peaked at maximum dullness, the time for Dani’s curse finally comes due.  Woken by drums in the night, Dani steps foot into a surreal scene where her cousin’s house has morphed into a gateway to an underworld where Dani is to be an unwilling guest.

Except since “Voodoo” is a microbudget movie, it doesn’t come close to collecting the resources required to meet its ambition or imagination.  This portal to darkness and damnation is just a graffiti-covered stairwell with the word “Hell” literally spray-painted above three downward arrows.  A hole in the floor eventually opens and Dani is dragged below by two herky-jerky demons summoned from a video game cutscene circa 1995.

If things weren’t awkwardly odd enough, here is where they get impossibly weirder.  This is also the point where “Voodoo” admits it has no real story.  It is mostly a setup to get to a red-lit paper mache cave where Dani laboriously confronts demented dioramas of tasteless torture.

“Voodoo’s” climax is essentially a long walk through a Halloween haunt where we witness a man in a pillory being sodomized with a stick, a deranged doctor forcibly removing a baby from one woman’s womb so another woman can eat it, and other ooga booga tableaus more silly than shocking.  Even if any of this scenery appeared remotely realistic, which it doesn’t because the set looks dressed from the clearance aisle of a Halloween prop store on November 1st, it’s too conceptually scatterbrained to hit a nerve or come across as terrifying.

Remember that warning about “Voodoo” being king of “who found this footage” conundrums?  With Dani preoccupied by screaming incessantly for the final 40 minutes, filming duties apparently fall to unseen hounds of Hell.  Having trouble suspending disbelief that an unidentified demon would want to trial run his cinematography skills in the heroine’s absence?  What if I told you that the finale involves Dani being raped by Satan, and the first thing she does after pulling up her pants is to pick up the camera and resume filming?

I want to appreciate “Voodoo” on some level for its foolhardy fearlessness to be unapologetically gonzo.  Yet disregarding “horror” far tackier than it is taboo, “Voodoo” has the impenetrable problem of being wholly inappropriate for “found footage” while treading in a deep end of “out there” ideas.  That’s a place where its actors, budget, and threadbare story simply can’t swim.

Review Score:  30