Strong lead performances and a startling twist juice up the found-footage exercise "VooDoo," which squeezes unexpected novelty from an exhausted subgenre. Writer-director Tom Costabile brings real imagination to the form, producing something that fright fans might appreciate for being a little different.
After a disorienting, blood-spattered prologue, "VooDoo" introduces a pair of cousins, Dani (Samantha Stewart) and Stacy (Ruth Reynolds), as they pass a video camera back and forth during a jaunt around Los Angeles. Costabile shoots in and around the city's landmarks — the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Venice Beach, etc. — as Dani dishes to Stacy about the busted relationship and angry voodoo priestess she left back home in New Orleans.
Stewart's Louisiana accent is inconsistent, but otherwise she and Reynolds bring vivacity to their stock scream-queen roles, even when they're not being plagued by hell-spawns.
When Dani's witchy romantic rival shows up in town, "VooDoo" takes an abrupt turn best left unspoiled. Suffice it to say that the last third of the film consists of one long trip through the heroine's worst fears, rendered in a way that's less like a home movie and more like a sick voyeur's POV.
Even gore-hounds may find the movie's nightmarish final half-hour excessively violent. But at least Costabile steps outside of the shaky-cam-and-shadowy-monster norm for found-footage, creating a real sense of place — as inhospitable as it may be.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes
Playing: Monica Film Center, Santa Monica