Taking inspiration from author Wade Davis’ book of the same name, Wes Craven explores spirituality and politics. This is not a direct adaption of the book, with Bill Pullman playing Dr. Dennis Alan. Alan is sent by his employer (a pharmaceutical company) too Haiti to investigate the stories of Christophe, a man who died in 1978, but has reappeared from the dead.
While there, Alan starts to work with Dr. Marielle Duchamp, who is treating Christophe. With her help, he is introduced to practitioners of Voodoo who are open to teaching him how to make the toxins that produce the zombie state. Dennis is convinced there are medicinal uses that would revolutionize medical care.
However, Haiti is in a state of revolution, and runs afoul of the local corrupt constable Dargent Peytraud (played with ominous relish by Zakes Mokae). After a threat to his life Alan realizes he cannot escape Peytraud’s grasp and returns to Haiti to help the friends he has made and confront Peytraud.
For the two thirds of the story, Craven plays things a bit coy. Any horror moments could simply be happening in his head, under the influence of hallucinogens. Up until the moment he returns to the United States, Voodoo is treated pretty respectfully. But then the film swerves into horror fantasy with a spiritual showdown between Alan and Peytraud.
The effects in the film are really solid with all sorts of creepy imagery. But what really stands out is the beautifully shot scenery. Filmed largely on location in Haiti, the cinematographer John Lindley takes full advantage of the environments.
Wade Davis has expressed some disappointment with the film for how it sensationalizes Voodoo, while the whole point of his book was to present it as a valid religion alongside the more popular and accepted religions of the world. He does not seem to lay this at Craven’s feet, whom he has suggested was trying to make something less in the horror vein (Davis had hoped for something more like the Year of Living Dangerously). He feels the studio kept the pressure on to provide them with a Wes Craven thriller.
While the film has some tonal flaws, it is still a very strong return to form for Craven, especially after Deadly Friend. This is Craven managing to bring his more intellectual ideas alongside his thriller instincts. And it works. This is an engaging film worth a watch.