Found footage is a medium that has become fairly divisive. Some enjoy it on it’s merits, and the sense of atmospheric realism it produces. Others admonish it’s gimmick, and it’s aptness to induce headaches and fits of vertigo. The ultimate concern surrounding found footage, is it makes feature filmmaking an attainable goal for any schmuck that stumbles onto a video camera and has a few days to spare, shooting and editing. It seems an arduous task to find innovation amongst the heap in this overly saturated format. Then there is the nearly paradoxical feature debut of writer/director Tom Costabile, VooDoo, which, at face value is little more than student quality lip service to genre films most sadistic entries, but when you really settle into this film, it slowly starts to reveal itself as an honestly original, and organically ingenious effort. One filled with some of the most ridiculous and over the top antics, that will melt your brain. It doesn’t take long to see the virility of the narrative, and to realize that the films matter of fact tagline, was no joke.
Following Dani (Samantha Stewart), a distressed and overwhelmed woman who seeks refuge from the untimely death of her mother and a recent rocky break-up with her apparently married boyfriend, whose wife now seems to be stalking her. She ventures out to sunny California to visit her cousin Stacy (Ruth Reynolds), for a vacation filled with non stop partying and stress relief. As her vacation goes on, Dani begins to see and feel some unsettling and arguably malevolent vibes from her cousin’s house which eventually culminate in a dimensional gap thrusting her into the depths of hell. Here she is faced with depraved demons, strange apparitions, and terrifying savagery, as she is coached through the endeavor by an unidentified camera operator, whose whispy voice challenges her to soldier on to her disparaging fate, which sees her come face to face with Lucifer himself.
What’s interesting about Costabile’s VooDoo, is that, while classified as found footage, it’s not shot that way. Contrarily, this film spends a lot of time utilizing more conventional camera work, with loads of steadicam operation. In fact, the more conventional sequences are what save this movie from being almost intolerable. With an interesting premise, the lead in is difficult to get through to say the least. The dialogue is clunky and strangely delivered, and Stewart’s struggles with her supposed Louisiana accent seriously hamper any enjoyment that could have been discerned from the first 45 minutes. Though even with her inability to spew a whole sentence without messing up the twang, Stewart is surprisingly effective as the damsel and as the surrogate for the audience. Her co-star Ruth Reynolds is well served but under utilized, in a role that reduces her to little more than sidekick for most of the film.
The problem is in the pacing, which sees this story produce scene after scene of vapid and obtusely narrated exchanges, which even feature an extremely puzzling, gratuitous cameo by Ron Jeremy. After almost an hour of meandering valley girl dramatics, and randomly fleeting venomous imagery, the urge to raise the white flag and just walk away from this altogether is quite strong. Then it happens, VooDoo takes a hard, and I mean hard, left turn. Dani is sucked into hell and what we get in the final thirty minutes is some of the most ballsy and ambitious filmmaking you’ll stumble across. Costabile does his damnedest to subject the audience to a bevy of psychologically damaging brutality that sees cannibalism of newborns, rape, sodomy and a multitude of surreal ritualistic dismemberment.
This becomes an entirely different film, and the contrast is so jarring you pretty much lose sight of the fact that the first two thirds of this movie, is insufferable, which when you reflect on it, might have been a stroke of pure genius. Costabile works with excellent practical effects to make his version of hell, seemingly inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, come to life. Dani is forced to travel through different levels, fun house style, each with their own insane brand of torture, which comes to a head in one of the most depraved and sadistic ways.
There is no reprieve once the the camera plunges into the dark abyss, which makes this so difficult to apprehend. The pacing early on may force the target audience to walk away before they reach the payoff, but for some unsuspecting individuals, who may be expecting something more moderate, they are in for one seriously rude awakening. Either way, this is one commendable effort by Costabile and his cast, who manage to do a complete 180 degree turn and deliver one hell of a final act. While VooDoo has some glaring weaknesses, some awful dialogue, and one really bad accent, it is still a uniquely satisfying venture for horror nuts. This would have been better served if it had dropped the found footage gimmick altogether, because the story is actually quite strong in spite of some plot holes, but there is simply no denying the effectiveness of this absolutely baths*t crazy movie.
3.25/5 Not Bad Bro
Voodoo is set to for limited release and VOD tomorrow 2/24. You will be able to rent/purchase it on virtually all streaming platforms on that date.