As one who frequents the horror shelves of his local video store, I often find myself thinking about – you guessed it! – horror flicks. Because they can be cheaply made in this day and age, there's a glut of them out there. While I can't see all of them, I've certainly shared enough of them to know that one film generally seems to inspire a trend. Sometimes this trend really isn't so much a movement as it is an inclination on the part of one company to "do one better" with a subject matter previously explored by the competition, but I'm willing to view that as a modest ‘trend' more than anything else. In the past twenty years, the ‘found footage film' has been the most widely bandied about stylistic choice in horror, and, despite its flaws, VOODOO POSSESSION makes clever use of it, blending the said footage not quite as seamlessly into a larger story than all would expect.
Still, when you're relying on Danny Trejo to deliver your film's gravitas, then you're quite possibly fighting an uphill battle at it is.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,' then read on …)
Aiden Chase (played rather blandly by a generic Ryan Caltagirone) is the cameraman from a schlock TV investigative program that specializes in … well … schlock. At the behest of hot reporter Bree Nelson (a fetching Kerry Knuppe), they speed off to Haiti in search of Aiden's missing brother Cody (David Thomas Jenkins), one of those pesky ‘doctors without borders' who went there to work at a clinic specializing in voodoo possession (of all non-doctorly things). But when a secret from their past draws the interest of a demon known only as ‘The Tormentor,' Aidan will stop at nothing (including risking the lives of everyone around him) to either rescue Cody or see everyone burn in Hell!
VOODOO POSSESSION benefits from having a script of ambition. Writer/director Walter Boholst has constructed a character drama (two boys struggling with memories of an abusive stepfather and what they had to do to end it) with hints of the supernatural, so bringing the divide into the world of voodoo (which has always interested me) wasn't a creative stretch. Also, Boholst cleverly inserts into the narrative all of the backstory he needed by way of using ‘found footage' of Cody's various forays into said world and sprinkles them liberally throughout the first half as needed. Lastly, he's tossed in a couple of relatively stereotypical characters solely to give some comic relief from this grim reality, and he's assured the audience (and, more likely, his investors) that he's well aware of the formula to make a big budget motion picture.
Unfortunately, those same strengths end up serving as weaknesses here, mostly because of the bargain basement approach that's applied to the overall production.
Aiden and Cody's backstory pulls away from the real meat of the tale – a team of reporters risking their lives in some voodoo perdition – slowing down the pace and destroying much of the tension. Because this narrative technique is used with increasing frequency and staged so cheaply (but not without some modest symbolism), those sequences felt more like poorly conceived community theatre than they did part of the overall film. The ‘found footage' requires additional exposition so that much of its inclusion makes sense, and this required Boholst to construct yet another character – a local ‘authority' on voodoo who sadly dresses and appears more like a Haitian rapper than he does a legitimate spiritual traveler. And the comic relief? Well, instead of being consistently funny, they end up largely serving as bodies for carnage, being dispatched when they're the only people an audience probably cared for.
Need I mention that the dreaded Tormentor once it makes its grand appearance looks like an overstuffed skeleton draped in trash bags under a layer of sweaty black paint? Granted, I love practical effects in lieu of CGI creations, especially when one's trying to build atmosphere in a motion picture, but was that the best you could afford? I've seen scarier stuff at a corner lot haunted house. It cheapened the moment of reveal when it should've enhanced it, so from that point forward it was hard to take any of it serious when that's the one thing horror audiences must do in order for the film to legitimately ‘work' on any level.
VOODOO POSSESSION (2013) is produced by B2FX, Front Row Media, Front Row Productions, Rough Riders Studios, and Waltertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds mostly solid, though there are a few sequences with some unusually quirky staging. Lastly – as is too often the case – there's little to be learned by way of special features: there's an all-too-brief (ten minutes?!?) behind-the-scene short that really feels more like personal promotion (and "glad-handing") for Boholst and Burman than it does anything else.
MILDLY RECOMMENDED. It's not a stinker, but what's that odor? As horror stories go, VOODOO POSSESSION ends up being relatively tame (though it still manages to squeeze in more than its share of buckets of blood), and that's mostly because writer/director Walter Boholst rightly or wrongly concentrated on and amplified the psychological aspect of terror over the tangible. His is a fairly lean resume at this point in his career, so methinks he can recover, though I'm not sure the same can be said of the stars he put through the paces in this slower-than-molasses bloat … with the exception of Danny Trejo, of course. Danny Trejo will never die. Just ask him!
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of VOODOO POSSESSION by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.