First things first. That cover is horrendous. Expect this film to end up in bargain bins everywhere within months, purely because of that horrible "artwork". And for a film that has won awards at several international film festivals (says so on the back), which nincompoop thought they could sell the film by boasting on the front cover about a score by a former Banshee?! Please, this is 2007 ...
Rant over. Now, to the main feature ...
The opening credits set the scene well - a stylish montage of London's high-rise offices lit up against the evening sky. But these striking images are intercut with the more alarming vision of Ruth, a young Afro-Caribbean lady dancing trance-like to some tribal beats. A crowded room watches feverishly, until she passes out much to their consternation.
The following morning, American couple Lincoln (Doug Cockle, REIGN OF FIRE) and Sarah Mathers (Sara Stewart, ACT OF GOD) move into a Victorian street house with their young daughter Beth. All seems fine for a while as they settle in to their new abode, establishing themselves as an initially playful and flirty couple.
They meet their first neighbour, budding historian Fiona (Trisha Mortimer, FRIGHTMARE), Lincoln impresses in his new office job as an analyst, and Sarah employs the feisty young Kelly (Vonda Barnes) as a home-help.
But what they don't see are Ruth and her partner Ray, who live in a flat nearby and spend their time shitting themselves when things start to move supernaturally in their lounge. "She's threatening us!" cries a petrified Ruth.
A couple of Cockney builders are hired to renovate the Mathers' cellar, and uncover a strange seal on its floor. When they leave, Sarah explores the seal more closely - breaking it with a hammer to reveal a tomb with two decayed corpses and various religious paraphernalia inside.
After a minor row about what to do about their discovery, Lincoln agrees to let Sarah look further into it - and not inform the authorities. But the findings seem to have a strange effect on Sarah, which everyone (bar the viewer) takes an age to realise. Even when Ray knocks on Lincoln's door and warns him that his wife has been possessed by an evil warrior named Assangen, Lincoln simply laughs and slams the door in his face.
But as Sarah's behaviour gets increasingly weird, as witnessed by Kelly and the builders, even Lincoln reluctantly agrees something must be done. Fiona doesn't help to calm the situation by bringing historical papers round, that shed light on the identity of the corpses in their cellar ...
Of course, the title kind of gives away where this is all heading, but that doesn't stop LONDON VOODOO being a quietly enjoyable film which builds to a suitably hysterical exorcism courtesy of Ray and Ruth.
Clearly lensed on a tight budget, VOODOO still benefits from some very attractive photography and a slow-building sense of unease that eschews the temptation to go for cheap kicks such as gore, and provide an ultimately more satisfying atmosphere of growing dread instead.
It doesn't always work. The scenes with the builders are embarrassing, and Sarah isn't the most sympathetic of characters. But the overall measure of the film is that it holds interest and those who stick with it will be rewarded by a fairly gripping final 30 minutes.
Not quite scary or violent enough to stick in the mind, VOODOO must nevertheless be commended for it's novel casting, decent script and attempts to swathe it's viewer in growing uneasiness.
The film is presented uncut in a decent anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Minor grain is evident during some darker moments, but the lighter scenes hold up very well - clean and crisp images.
Both audio options (English 2.0 and 5.1) do a cracking job of adding well-balanced atmosphere where required. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are optional.
An animated scene selection menu offers access to the main attraction via 12 chapters.
Where this Nucleus Films release excels is in the extras department.
First up, we get a feature-length commentary from first-time writer/director Robert Pratten. He delivers a fluent and informative talk track that rarely finds him lost for words. Specific scenes are given detailed backgrounds, and the research of the subject matter was clearly comprehensive judging from his knowledgeable comments.
Next we're treated to a thorough 59-minute documentary from Daneeta Loretta Saft taking us on-set and behind the scenes of the film's making. Pratten addresses the camera at various points, video diary-style, taking us through each stage of the movie's production - from its inception in March 2001 onwards. An engaging and rewarding watch.
An interview with an actual voodoo priest follows. The man's name is Roger Heaven, he's a white Englishman and I couldn't help but find this a little preposterous, albeit admittedly insightful. It's lengthy too, at 19 minutes.
14 minutes of deleted scenes don't offer much of interest, but it's always nice to see them for completion.
Then there's two trailers - the punchy, slightly longer first one being the better of the two.
But wait, there's more! Reel North: Premiere is a 3-minute snippet from a regional TV programme where Pratten is interviewed to promote the premiere screening of VOODOO.
And, finally, we get to the vault of trailers advertising other titles in the Nucleus roster - GWENDOLINE, THE UGLIEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD, FAUST 5.0, BETWEEN YOUR LEGS and DEATH SHIP.
All in all, a film of minor interest that has been given the royal treatment by a company who remain committed to putting out high quality releases of lesser-known cult titles.
Just ignore that cover.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Nucleus Films|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|