Writer/director Tom Costabile‘s VooDoo is an interesting film. It starts out as your standard, run-of-the-mill found footage film before turning into the type you would expect to see if it was announced that JosÃ© Mojica Marins was making a found footage film. I would not have been the least bit fazed or surprised to have seen Coffin Joe standing around in the background overseeing the mayhem during the film’s climax.
VooDoo opens with someone who looks like they escaped from Lamberto Bava’s Demons chewing on and violently stabbing a dead person. This scene, never again referenced in any way, lasts only a few seconds before moving on to the opening credits. The film then introduces us to Dani Lamb (Samantha Stewart) as she heads out to California to start a new life. We also get a look at her new camera that will be used to record everything she does, whether it makes sense in the moment or not. I should note here that Samantha Stewart is one of VooDoo’s saving graces. She is cast in the role of a character that could be extremely annoying as the film goes on, but she has the acting chops to make the character watchable even in scenes where the viewer might otherwise find her grating.
We are quickly introduced to Dani’s longtime friend Stacy (Ruth Reynolds) who has agreed to give Dani a place to stay until she gets on her feet. Stacy’s place is nice, but she has a fascination with darker things, such as voodoo, and decorates parts of her home with items reflecting this. Stacy decides to take Dani and her camera out on the town and show her how they have a good time around those parts. This involves drinking, clubs, and randomly running into and being hit on by Ron Jeremy.
We learn during the various outings that Dani left her home and headed to California because of a relationship that ended badly. Unbeknownst to her when they met, the guy she fell for was married. Oh, and his wife also happened to be an insane practitioner of voodoo. Dani decided it was a good time to leave town when the man’s wife started showing up at her job and screaming curses at her in strange languages. We also learn that her dad gave her the video camera as a going-away gift, so she decided to start filming at all times.
You wonder exactly why she’s bothering to film everything as VooDoo progresses, especially when she leaves the camera running when she’s not around. During those instances, The camera does catch disturbing signs of the supernatural, but despite this being in the middle of the film, she never goes back and sees any of this footage herself. This is the biggest problem with the film. It falls into the found footage trap where the director either cannot show you things you need to know/see, or the director shows you and it makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the story. At the climax of the film, VooDoo really doubles down on one of the problems of found footage.
During the course of events, we meet Stacy’s only somewhat annoying boyfriend, Spencer (Dominic Matteucci), and his friend, Trey (Daniel Kozul). We also get to see the standard cast of characters one would expect in such a story. This includes standard roles such as a crazy bum and a beachside fortune teller who both, much to Dani’s annoyance, sense the great evil that’s coming. Dani eventually gets a phone call from her ex letting her know that his wife, Serafine L’Amour (Constance Strickland), has followed Dani to California. From here the story heads quickly to a resolution, that is both incredibly and effectively disturbing, but completely destroyed by the fact that it’s part of a found footage film.
For VooDoo’s climax, when the supernatural happenings begin in earnest, Costabile doubles down on one issue that bothers many viewers of found footage. As all Hell breaks loose in Stacy’s home, Dani takes the time to grab her camera and keeps filming everything as she is running for her life. Dani continues to film even as demonic creatures drag her by the feet through a portal to Hell. When she finally drops the camera, either Serafine L’Amour, a demon, or a ghost picks up the camera and continues to keep it trained on Dani as her destiny unfolds. She is tortured by demons; tormented by visions of both her dead mother and a dead uncle, who apparently molested her in life; graphically raped by a devil; and taken back to the real world to learn the truth of her fate.
Again, the sheer insanity of the film’s climactic scene reminds one of a less psychedelic version of JosÃ© Mojica Marins trip to hell in the first of the Coffin Joe films. Had this film been shot as a standard narrative film, that ending, while perhaps too graphic for some, might have made this an instant cult classic for many horror fans. As a found footage film, the ending just feels ridiculous on several levels. You find yourself watching an ending so dark, twisted, and strange that it should be disturbing you on the conscious and unconscious levels, but you end up wondering why the denizens of this strange hell care about getting the best shots of the action with Dani’s camera. It throws you out of the film at the worst possible moment it could, and it has the effect of making the ending feel like something of a letdown.
VooDoo is a film that will likely find a loyal audience with lovers of found footage horror as well as some casual fans of that format. Writer/director Tom Costabile creates a tight, streamlined, and well-paced story that he directs in a manner that both feels authentically “handheld amateur” while avoiding the common pitfalls of that style. The main characters are portrayed well enough. Unlike the ones in many found footage films these days, you can watch them without finding yourself rooting for them to die painful deaths. If you can get past the problems with the ending, you’ll probably find yourself liking this film quite a bit. As a horror fan, if you normally cannot get past the issues inherent in most found footage offerings, you might be let down by watching a film you feel is full of wasted potential.
Either way, VooDoo is worth a look. Then you can decide for yourself. If nothing else, it’s worth watching to see the early work of Tom Costabile. Despite my issues with it, VooDoo is a film that shows Tom Costabile’s potential to be a huge name in independent horror film-making in the very near future.
Voodoo (4 / 5)