Fikri Jermadi considers the rare animistic core of Bai Zhou’s film.
‘True Voodoo’ tells the story of Audrey (Sarah Colford), a housewife recently married to Gregory (Brad Siciliano). Things appear to be fine to begin with, but a spanner is thrown into the narrative in the form of a more reluctant stepson, Joseph (Tyler Patrick), a young child who appears reticent to accept Audrey as anything other than his father’s wife. Truth be told, he is a more than a bit of a brat, with his petulance well-established in the first scene itself.
All the same, his acceptance of her is critical to Audrey’s own sense of validation, for it challenges her authority. Upon meeting a stranger, Bianca (Sandi Ross), she starts to see how she could employ alternative methods as a way of gaining not only Joseph’s acceptance, but also greater emancipation in her own life.
There are a number of reasons as to why I decided to spend more time jotting down my thoughts on ‘True Voodoo’. I suppose it’s not really a spoiler to mention how that method is related to voodoo and its arts. On a personal level, I find it intriguing that such methods are brought into being in this particular context. Being a short film made in Canada, I wouldn’t have imagined such a subject matter being given the centre of attention. If anything, it is often projected as a more primitive form of animism, to be found in more remote parts of the world, rather than a centre of first world civilisation.
Perhaps that could be better contextualised in the names behind the camera, with the director, Bai Zhou, being supplemented by the likes Priyanka Srivastava (producer) and Moby Singh (production designer). I know, this is perhaps where I need to check my own biases that may well be out of place at the tail end of the second decade of the 21st century. Far from being an exercise in stereotypes, it is simple an attempt to understand the origin of the logic that lies beneath.
The aforementioned narrative rarity is complemented by a more common exploration in recent times. In particular, I am interested in how power is used not necessarily to attain all the wealth and influence in the world; instead, it is utilised for a recalibration of the domestic structure. Having committed herself to the marriage, Audrey finds herself marginalised not only by Joseph, but also by Gregory, whose commitment to his job (instead of his new wife) is astoundingly tone-deaf. Thus, it is intriguing to see how processes of animism renders a reorientation of the narrative focus unto her, as she attempts to (re)claim autonomy and respect.
Unfortunately, the execution of these interesting ideas isn’t quite as accomplished. The acting was perhaps more routine than most, but I feel that this should also be understood as a student film, so it is probably a little unfair to expect more polished performances from all involved. It is not helped by an overall sound design that’s probably a little more exuberant than it needed to be. Sound is half the image, but here, there is such a disconnect that at times, it overwhelms the image; sounds of footsteps, for instance, could suddenly draw too much attention to itself due to inappropriate mixing. It’s not a lost cause, however, as the reduction of music levels from the first time voodoo was employed is a good way of telling story through sound.
The introduction of the characters could also be better done. Bianca’s sudden appearance was a little disconcerting (though perhaps that’s what the director, Bai Zhou, have in mind), and it is only a later scene in Bianca’s house that truly established her as a neighbour. Beyond that jarring immediacy, the build-up in the second act is a lot more accomplished, as our protagonist becomes more tempted by voodoo. There is a strong reliance on the dialogue as a means of exposition, which is never my personal preference in short film contexts, but here it carries the narrative through effectively enough, so kudos is due to the scriptwriter, Josh Puddicombe.
Overall, this is a story whose idea perhaps deserves a more accomplished film to truly be effective. It is not without its high moments, of course (the knife being stuck into a chicken prepare for dinner is a strong bit of imagery that will stay for a while), but the core concepts of animism and domestic emancipation, especially as situated in the white Canadian context, is one that remains intriguing all the same.
Featured image credit: Deramores