Erzulie (2022)

Rating: D

Dir: Christine W Chen
Star: Courtney Oliviér, Fay Smalling, Jason Kirkpatrick, Zoe Graham

/shrill misandry intensifies

“I was blacklisted because I wouldn’t roll over. It’s time for the tables to turn. Aren’t you tired of being under their thumb? Being at their mercy? Men. Brutal, selfish men who ruin people’s lives and get away with it!” So squeaks Wendy (Oliviér), the heroine of this… thing, which seems less a horror film, than a way for co-writer/director Chen to address some gnarly personal issues. What heinous crime did the evil patriarchy commit against Wendy, to provoke such an extreme reaction? She lost her job, after the city cut funding to her pet project, some ill-defined “retreat” for womyn with grudges. Yeah, as a taxpayer, I’m with the city. Someone needs to get over herself.

Mind you, Fay, Ari and Violet, the three friends who join her for a getaway at a motel by a Louisiana swamp, all have issues – and, what are the odds, they’re all the fault of the men in their lives? By the time we got to the above speech, I realized how this film worked. Men are evil. White people are evil. Country folk are evil. So, the white, male, redneck motel manager (Kirkpatrick), might as well have been Satan. Rhett is a leering stereotype made flesh, in cahoots with the local chemical company to poison the river. So, yeah: when a film relentlessly depicts me as the villain, pardon me if I’m unimpressed. Though mostly because a social conscience – here, this means demonizing the “right” people – is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for shitty writing, something present here in spades.

Anyway, Wendy coerces her pals into engaging in an occult ritual, which leaves the spirit of voodoo goddess Erzulie, flapping around on the river-bank in mermaid form, like a beached dolphin. Somehow, she ends up gutting Fay’s ex-boyfriend, who has followed them for ill-defined reasons, and Erzulie tells them, “Whatever your heart desires, you shall possess it.” This is where Wendy goes off on the above rant, wanting “justice” and “revenge”.  [Ari later remarks sardonically, “Probably should have asked for a cure for cancer,” and I’ll confess that did make me laugh] Push-back against Wendy’s rampantly toxic feminism is limited, and frankly, she seems to care not one whit for the impact her actions have on her friends.

More annoyingly from a critical point of view, either the cinematography or the transfer is badly screwed-up in terms of lighting. This matters since the second half of the film takes place almost entirely at night, and I was left almost unable to determine which shadow was doing what to another shadow. On the other hand, this does probably help avoid the shortcomings of the mermaid being too visible. What you see is wobbly enough to leave me rather grateful for the absence of light. I’m going to presume Rhett got his come-uppance in the darkness, though it turns out he has a familial connection to Erzulie, which likely poses more questions than it answers. I’m hard-pushed to care either way, and the only impact this had was a moderate longing for a nice plate of fish & chips.