Dani (Samantha Stewart, The Young and the Restless) is a seemingly innocent whose effort to escape an unexpectedly not so innocent relationship with a married man finds her traveling to L.A. for a visit with cousin and BFF Stacy (Ruth Reynolds).
Written and directed by Tom Costabile, Voodoo starts off almost plainly as we're treated to an extended period of time of experiencing Dani, Stacy and the sights and sounds of L.A.
Of course, this is a horror flick. Things won't be staying timid for too long.
Indeed, they don't.
As relaxation kicks in, Dani's revelation that the the man with whom she broke up just so happened to be married to a voodoo high priestess of sorts sets the wheels in motion for a jarringly disturbing yet beautiful low-budget indie that moves forward when just about every other film would stop.
Apparently, Tom Costabile doesn't have a safe word.
That's a shame. She could really use one.
Voodoo is a relentlessly twisted affair, at least after about the 40-minute mark, though Costabile's constant awareness of what will and will not work within the confines of a lower-budgeted film keeps the film with a certain that would likely be considered campy if it wasn't so incredibly relentless and anxiety inducing.
While it's a little cliche' to say that Voodoo feels like two different films, it seems fairly safe to that most people will have such an experience with the film. The second film, which fortunately takes up most of the film, has the look and feel of a found footage film, the violence of a fairly epic horror flick and exists in a realm where you've become invested enough in Dani's life that you actually care what's going on.
What's going on? Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that Dani awakens to a hellish journey involving all kinds of madness, murder, mayhem and maniacal in a way seldom captured even in indie horror.
Samantha Stewart is vibrant and exciting here and building our investment in her welfare even when the film runs a tad slow early on and we're not quite sure where this is all going. Stewart's early scenes as a wide-eyed New Orleans hick are compelling enough that by the time our sweet Dani is screaming her head off, which is pretty much the last 30 minutes, you're torn between finding it unbearable and being super impressed with Costabile's debut feature.
As the cousin who's a little more world aware, Ruth Reynolds (Reunion) shines brightly even as she's surrounded by far more dramatic and horrifying portrayals such as Constance Strickland's so disturbing I never want to meet her performance as the hexing and vexing Serafine. The film features a fun little cameo from Ron Jeremy and the film's supporting players are all rock solid throughout.
David M. Brewer's lensing works well within the confines of the film's budgetary constraints, though one does expect a few issues along the way given the film's rather hellish locale and inherently dark scenes.
Picked up by Freestyle Releasing for a limited nationwide release on February 24th along with a VOD release through Freestyle Digital Media, Voodoo is a terrific debut feature from Tom Costabile, a film that may drag in spots and occasionally exhibit those low-budget tech quirks but also a film that is refreshingly bold, offbeat and unforgettable. If you get a chance, definitely check it out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic