“Want to get away?” Most of you probably remember that line from the Southwest Airlines commercials that showed people in awkward or embarrassing situations who desperately seemed to need a break from their lives. In fact, that’s all a vacation really is…a break. Whether it’s a week or a month, taking a holiday is not the equivalent of a total escape from ones problems.
It’s a lesson that Dani will quickly learn when she amscrays from her home in New Orleans to visit her cousin Stacy in LA. Her plan is to use this time away from home as an escape from the drama of a nasty and painful breakup with a man she had no idea was still married the entire time they were dating.
But wait, there’s more. The man she was dating just happened to be married to a crazy voodoo priestess. And while the common concept of female fury is scary enough, it becomes quite diminished when compared to that of a scorned and jealous woman with the power of dark voodoo on her side.
With a camcorder in hand Dani is set to make the most of her trip and document as much as possible on video for posterity. However, what should have been an idyllic dream vacation for Dani will soon become a far more hellish and nightmarish experience than she could have ever fathomed.
There’s absolutely no question that found footage can be a very forgiving and cost effective cinematic style, but there also needs to be a good fit story-wise. Tom Costabile’s story and vision for VooDoo might have been better translated to the screen in a more traditional cinematic style, perhaps even with some of the camcorder footage inter-cut throughout. But much of the footage in the first half of the film reminded me why I don’t like watching video from other people’s vacations. Because even though the footage might mean something to them it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to find it interesting. Also, many scenes felt entirely too well framed or composed to be the spontaneous recording of a young woman on vacation.
When things literally go to Hell, it felt like I was watching approximately 30 or more minutes of someone’s video recording of their trip through a Hell themed haunted attraction. And that begs the question about who exactly is continuing to record footage while Dani’s being led through Hell. Is it some imp, demon, minion or netherworldly ghoul? And frankly, what would be their motivation to do so?
Also, the film’s main antagonist – Serafine, the wife of Dani’s ex-boyfriend – is curiously absent, save for appearance in a rather drawn out intro, which was also curiously done in found footage style. An intro which has no explained connection to the rest of the story, and otherwise just showcases a gratuitous double murder of a mother followed by her young daughter. She then shows up again towards the end, but this second appearance is incidental at best.
The supporting cast did a respectable job in their roles, but Ruth Reynolds was one who particularly stood out in this group. Reynolds was natural and relaxed in her effortless depiction of Stacy. Samantha Stewart was somewhat inconsistent in her portrayal of our lead character, Dani. This became most apparent with her broken bayou accent throughout the film. Also, her displays of fear and despair often seemed forced and disingenuous, paarticularly when it mattered most. There is also a cameo appearance by porno legend Ron Jeremy. I guess he shows up to give us the idea that it’s customary for Ron to seek out and try to hook up with young females who are visiting Los Angeles.
While most found footage style films don’t have to depend on the construction of elaborate sets. I did find the set that was built to represent Hell was fairly well done, but at times it still had the appearance of your average local Halloween haunted attractions. The actors and actresses serving as the denizens of Hell displayed acting ability equivalent to that of people who participate in the cast of the aforementioned haunts. Overall the practical gore effects were hit and miss depending on how they were displayed in the context of the film.
In the end, there is no real build up of tension or fear as a precursor to what happens in the final portion of the film. Anything eluding to danger is incidental, and any feeling of dread is fleeting. What’s more, is the fact that I felt no semblance of sympathy for Dani. Ultimately, I did feel like I was watching somebody’s vacation video, despite the fact there wasn’t anyone there to narrate. “This is me on my way to my cousin’s house, this is when we went to the beach, hey check out the stars on the walk of fame, oh snap…this is when I went to Hell, I totally needed a shower after that.”
I truly fell in love with the concept of the “found footage film” back when The Blair Witch Project came out. However, the purpose of the footage in such films needs to be plausible, with a truly organic feel to the actions and interactions of the subjects or people being recorded. Unfortunately VooDoo comes across as contrived and orchestrated while also lacking a smooth progression of the narrative. To borrow from Frank Sinatra, I’ll wrap it up by saying he did do that VooDoo, he does not so well. 4 / 10