Erzulie is a Haitian voodoo goddess and a protector of women and children. It’s also the title of the debut feature from director Christine Chen and her co-writer Camille Gladney which places the goddess in a Louisianna swamp with some vacationing women who are going to need some protection.
Wendy (Courtney Oliviér, Natural Disasters, Intrusions), Zoe (Fay Smalling, Scare Package, Infinity Baby), Violet (Elizabeth Trieu, No Loss, No Gain, #Slaughterhouse), and Allison (Haley Raines, His Stretch of Texas Ground) are getting together for a much-needed vacation. The city has shut down Wendy’s project and fired her and Zoe is getting over an abusive relationship.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be the relaxing trip they planned. The river is off-limits after a gator ate a tourist. The resort owner’s son Rhett (Jason Kirkpatrick, 2 Guns, The Hunt) is letting a company dump toxic waste in said river. And speaking of toxic waste, James (Alexander Biglane, Tales from the Hood 2, Fear the Walking Dead: Dead in the Water) has followed her. When Wendy’s attempt to summon Erzulie seemingly fails, it’s just the latest in a long string of problems and disappointments.
Erzulie was filmed in twelve days on a very limited budget, so I understand it’s not going to be wall-to-wall action and effects. But that doesn’t excuse the fact almost nothing happens in the first half-hour beyond clumsy exposition as the women talk about their troubles and smoke so much I wondered if a tobacco company put up part of the budget.
For his part, Rhett is so cartoonish of a villain he may as well have been animated, complete with a long mustache to twirl. To compensate for that we get to see him snort cocaine off of a stripper’s boobs. James, who doesn’t make an actual appearance until the second act, is much more menacing and should have been the film’s main antagonist.
At the half-hour mark, they find a woman (Leila Anastasia Scott) unconscious by the river. You can easily guess who and what she is, and I was hoping things would start to pick up at that point. And it does to a degree as we see some odd glowing lights under a door and one of the film’s several scummy characters comes to a well-deserved bad end.
But if you were lured in by the promise of a killer mermaid, you’re going to be disappointed. Both by budget and the necessity of having her be on dry land to get to her prey, Erzulie spends most of the film in human form. As a result, the film feels as much like a female slasher film as it does a creature feature much of the time.
When we do see her in her true form the effect is obviously a suit and some face paint, but it’s better than much of the CGI that turns up in films like this. The little bits of gore we get also look to be practical. The final showdown, set during a torrential rain is also surprisingly well done for what the filmmakers had to work with.
If you can get past the first half-hour, Erzulie is a fairly solid microbudget film with both an environmental and a feminist message. Despite some clunky dialogue and bad guys who seem to have wandered in from an episode of Scooby Doo, it’s a promising debut for Christine Chen. Hopefully, she’ll get a better budget for her next project.
Erzulie will run from May 27th to June 2nd at the Laemmle Glendale. Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight will release the film to Digital platforms on June 14th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details. And you can head over to FilmTagger for suggestions for what to watch while you wait.