Judge David Johnson thinks that "London Voodoo" sounds like a cool new dance step that's all the rage with the kids these day.
If you don't believe in voodoo, pray you never have to.
What would you do if you uncovered a pair of emaciated cadavers in your partially unfinished basement and your spouse subsequently up and got possessed by a long-dead voodoo warrior princess? Seek a reality show deal from Fox? Yeah, me too!
Facts of the Case
A young American couple, Lincoln (Doug Cockle, Reign of Fire) and Sarah (Sara Stewart), have just crossed the Atlantic with their daughter to begin life in London. Lincoln, his time commandeered by the new job that brought the family to England, has trouble finding quality time to spend at home. This leaves Sarah to care for their daughter on her own. Overwhelmed, she hires an oddball named Kelly as a housekeeper, who is nurturing a secret crush on Lincoln.
Forestalling the inevitable marital dysfunction is a discovery in the family's basement. While renovating, the builders stumble upon a hidden compartment in the floor. After they leave, Sarah and Lincoln open it up and discover a pair of skeletons. Lincoln immediately urges Sarah to call the police, but she resists, begging her husband to let her consume her copious spare time by researching the origin of the bodies. Miraculously, Lincoln agrees and throws himself back into his work.
As times passes, Sarah begins exhibiting strange behaviors. She frequently breaks down into an emotional mess, lashes out in spates of violence, unleashes tirades of profanity, and is overcome with horniness. That's right, she's becoming—Mariah Carey!
Actually, she's got a voodoo princess spirit inside her, yearning to come out. Lincoln's only hope is to tap into the underground voodoo community in London and use their knowledge and ability to exorcise the malevolence infecting his wife.
London Voodoo is an exorcism movie, pure and simple. But instead of a demonic possessor taken from Christian theology, this malicious little specter is rooted in voodoo. Still, the story line is faithful to the genre: Some poor sap becomes host to a spirit with a bad attitude, loved ones desperately seek answers, exorcising commences, chaos ensues.
There's nothing groundbreaking at work here. Writer-director Robert Pratten isn't looking to reinvent the wheel; he's just adding his own spin on the design. London Voodoo didn't wow me with its narrative, but what brought it up from the depths of Direct-to-Video Crapland was the quality of everything else.
First, the acting. Here's a flick that proves that atrocious acting isn't a necessary ingredient for small-budget indie horror movies. Cockle and Stewart do all the heavy lifting, and both pull off admirable work. As Lincoln, Doug Cockle believably transitions from the distracted partner, to the concerned husband, then last to the desperate believer in crazy-ass voodoo. An added bonus to this film is the handful of scenes with Lincoln at work; they are infrequent, but they represent a fine look into the pressures of high-cost corporate living. Sara Stewart enjoys the juicier of the two roles, as a woman slowly going off the deep end, then transforming into a wacky sex-obsessed foul-mouthed voodoo bitch.
The question mark is the inclusion of the Kelly character. Vonda Barnes, who plays her, is an attractive girl, but the character is so underdeveloped and underwritten that she has nothing to do throughout the movie. Her real role actually is as plot device. She tries to seduce Lincoln, which gives Sarah the opportunity to launch into a bout of craziness. Kelly's story—fragmented to begin with—never resolves.
Pratten is an able director, employing a variety of creative shots to tell his story: Hand-held sequences, close-ups, and camera effects all are used to convey specific feelings. He has a real knack for transmitting emotions of the characters with his visual flair.
Okay, yes, all of this is well and good, but it should be noted that London Voodoo is a movie that takes its time. It takes its sweet time. The goal of the film is to build up the characters and slowly introduce these extraordinary happenings in their lives. It's not a bad movie for what it is, but don't pop this disc in expecting a no-holds-barred visceral horror experience. The pacing is methodical, the gore is minimal, and the scares are more of the psychological ilk. London Voodoo teases its unease from the atmosphere of the unknown and the bizarre, not from chainsaws to the solar plexus.
Heretic Films has released a solid little DVD. Neither the video or audio blew me away, but this is a fairly quiet film, and the technical merits are all more than adequate. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is crisp and clean, boasting strong colors and tight detailing. The film comes with two audio tracks—Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1—and while a surround mix should always be the mix of choice, the lack of any aggressive use of surrounds, LFE, or even ambient sound makes the difference between the two negligible.
There are a few extras on board, and they're all pretty cool. Pratten delivers a play-by-play commentary, talking much about his filmmaking and writing process. Even more revealing are an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary and sporting home-video footage of Pratten in various stages of the filmmaking process. It's raw and inhibition-free, and a truly great little diary. You also get a handful of ho-hum deleted scenes and a trailer, but the final bonus, an interview with an actual voodoo priest, is, well, anticlimactic. After watching this thriller about how zany and dark voodoo can be, you've got this white dude talking about how voodoo priests counsel villagers and look after their mental well-being. Where are the bloody daggers and severed chicken heads?
London Voodoo is an effective piece of suspense horror. The production values and the acting are all impressive, though the story itself is less than engaging. The film is a slow burn, but anyone interested in a well-executed take on the exorcism genre might want to give it a look.
Not guilty. Go do that voodoo that you do so well.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Heretic Films
• Director's Commentary
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