An obvious if uniquely handled homage of such supernatural sensations as Rosemary's Baby and Angel Heart, Robert Pratten's London Voodoo manages to evoke the paranoia, fear, and isolation of said thrillers without resorting to cliché or the obviously tempting plagiarism that many other films indulge in. By remixing such standard occult elements as lingering spiritual terror, exorcism, and the power of evil made tangible into an undeniably contemporary plot and context, the movie confidently claims its own identity.
An adult fairy tale, the characters in this dysfunctional contemporary faerie world suffer the threatened destruction of their hopes and dreams. This threat of emotional loss resonates with us as strongly as the film's occult surface horrors. Threatened by carefully managed supernatural dangers (which occasionally reveal budgetary limitations), the general sense of uneasy atmosphere is often more impressive than the actual manifestations. Still more impressive are the inner ghosts of the characters, haunted as much by demons of their psyches as by the supernatural.
Lincoln, (Doug Cockle), a young businessman, relocates his family from Manhattan to London. In a beginning which immediately establishes the leisurely pace necessary for such serious degrees of character development, we're made to immediately understand this middle-class working family. Their desires and ambitions are our own. In their new home, Sarah (Sara Stewart), Lincoln's wife, discovers a voodoo altar and mummified corpses in their home's basement. Soon she becomes possessed. Intermingling infidelity and seduction with the supernatural angle, the supernatural attacks of outside forces are emphasized by (and interwoven with) the internal deterioration of a family torn apart, embodied most clearly by the voluptuous nanny, played by Vonda Barnes, who tries to seduce Lincoln. Destructive spiritual horrors are the order of the day, but so are the very real everyday stresses of family. This play at domestic terror works, finding horror not at the graveyard but the breakfast table.
Subtly chilling, the power of suggestion is reaffirmed by a primal story knowing exactly which ancient instincts to push. London Voodoo is exactly what it portends to be: a dark descent into the terror of possession. At the same time, it's a darkly scathing look at love -- its loss, power, and hunger. Sarah and Lincoln's insecurities are externalized by carefully placed moments of dread. Because the scares are so carefully interwoven between characterization and quietly achieved, good old fashioned spookiness, tension builds to a blistering breaking point. The menacing atmosphere will appeal more to the lover of classic supernatural horrors than folks out for a breast-and-breast bloodfest. There is more of Val Lewton than H.G. Lewis in writer/director Robert Pratten's approach. A professional cast, subtext of psychic unease, and authentic depictions of Voodoo -a religion often sensationalized but rarely understood - anchor it deeply enough in reality to make the concept frighteningly possible.
The characters are perhaps too much so; Sarah particularly is occasionally too agitating to empathize with. The direction, sometimes flat, is further hampered by uneven coincidences in the script, injecting an unwanted sense of silliness that slightly derails the suspense. Camera work by Patrick Jackson invests a fluid interjection of psychological depth into shots, contrasting images of facial expressions with ghost-like frames of the couple's home, reminding us that an unnatural presence lurks within both.
Heretic treats this movie as a friend, offering it in widescreen with Dolby sound which, in the tradition of great horror cinema, is itself a secondary character of sorts, lending tension to pivotal moments. A director's video diary, feature-length commentary, deleted scenes, and the trailer round out the package. Written and directed by Robert Pratten, this move, a credible chiller, is a calling card of even darker things to come.
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Heretic Films|
|Region 1 NTSC|
|Extras : see main review|