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London Voodoo (2004)
Writer and director: Robert Pratten
review by Christopher Geary
Lincoln (Doug Cockle) and Sarah (Sara Stewart) are an American couple moving to the UK with their small child, so that breadwinner Lincoln can take a new executive position at a London-based marketing firm. To help Sarah cope, they hire nanny Kelly (Vonda Barnes), who soon makes herself indispensable, despite an occasionally sulky attitude. Lincoln's unexpected challenges at work tend to distract him from early realisation that Sarah's intrigue with some long-buried bones discovered under their new home's cellar floor is not entirely archaeological or rational in nature; while visits from a local history expert, and the unwanted attention of some apparently 'weirdo' Haitian immigrants, annoy Lincoln and distress Sarah. Eventually, though, Lincoln is forced to confront the dark reality that an evil force has possessed his wife, and the suspense and drama build to a devastating climax...
While this creepy shocker doesn't have the foreign location atmosphere or total immersion into a cultural scenario of ultimate voodoo horror, Wes Craven's The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988), there is an almost tangible sense of impending dread that permeates the entire film. Many subtle, or blatant, intimations of wrongness - including guarded stares and hallucinatory blackouts - set this hugely enjoyable genre picture far above run-of-the-mill schlock. This is one uncompromisingly directed, brooding mystery-thriller, which generates plenty of claustrophobic and eerie chills on its way to a gripping and satisfying denouement. Surprisingly well acted from the cast of unknowns, and blessed with a wry sense of humour instead of the usual gross-out mentality, London Voodoo is a remarkable calling card for a very promising new filmmaker.
In addition to skilfully recreating some of the appeal of 1970s' Hammer offerings (though without the awkward camp posturing) where ancient powers manifested in contemporary settings, London Voodoo boasts quietly disturbing psychosexual dynamics that are sometimes reminiscent of Clive Barker's classic Hellraiser (1987). In fact, despite a middling budget, its minor-league production values, and lack of routinely 'spectacular' visual effects, Robert Pratten's debut feature is worthy of comparison to Barker's first movie. It boasts similar, keenly psychological, insights into 'trespasser' characters, and it adeptly explores the irresistible lure of 'secret knowledge' - and subsequent dire consequences for those unprepared for uncanny events. The gradual emergence of a 'supernatural conspiracy' is more tightly controlled here than in Barker's monster-movie, but this grants London Voodoo a more potent air of sophistication than most of today's horror thrillers, whether British or American.
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