Review by Beverly Bambury
This review first appeared at Leviathan Libraries.
Four friends head to a Louisiana resort for a fun, relaxing reunion, but Erzulie, the mermaid goddess of the swamp, has other plans for them.
Erzulie | Director: Christine W. Chen | Writers: Christine W. Chen and Camille Gladney | Stars: Courtney Oliviér, Elizabeth Trieu, Zoe Graham, Diana Rose, Leila Annastasia Scott | Release Year: 2022 | Genre: Horror Thriller | Runtime: 1 hr 26 min | Source: Publicist | Starred
More than a creature feature, and perfect for fans of indie horror
I have seen Erzulie called a creature feature, and I suppose it is, but it is more complex than just that. Let’s start at the beginning, though.
The first scene of the film quickly sets the tone. A bunch of young people are floating on the river. The boys are being obnoxious to the girls, and after an entirely preventable accident, one of the boys is pulled under. There is a struggle and eventually a bloom of blood in the water. Cut to title.
The main story begins when four women–Wendy (Oliviér), Violet (Trieu), Fay (Graham), and Ari (Rose)–head to a place they’ve met up before for a fun vacation with pals. There will be booze and river floating and lots of relaxation. Unfortunately, when they arrive they’re told the river is off-limits due to what happened in the first scene. It is a big disappointment for all of them, but there’s a pool and plenty to drink, so they make do.
Wendy is up to something different from her other friends, though, and she is seen the first night doing a ritual at the river’s edge. The other women find her and after they give her some ribbing she shares with her friends the story of Erzulie, a goddess who protects women and children. All the women but one perform a ritual to bond with the goddess. Once the ritual is complete strange and frightening things start to happen. Maybe Erzulie is a wild force not to be tampered with, maybe there is something else afoot.
It is around this point the audience meets another character, Pierce (Patrick Grover), who is investigating an environmental problem in the river.
Unfortunately, the first part of the film is a bit slow and exposition-heavy as we get to know the characters. Some of the acting is cartoony as well, such as Jason Kirkpatrick’s portrayal of Rhett, the proprietor of the resort. Rhett is up to some bad stuff (which we know because he acts like an over-the-top silent movie villain) and it turns out his activity is responsible for the environmental problem Pierce is investigating.
Wendy holds a ritual for her friends to help them all let go of some trauma, and they each write the thing most weighing them down. All of them have serious trauma of one kind or another, including Fay being stalked by a violent ex-boyfriend, James (briefly played by Alexander Biglane).
After all this exposition is laid out, Erzulie finally takes off and becomes a good time.
To avoid spoilers I’m not going to get into how the friends meet Erzulie, but the mermaid is fierce and protective of those who have bonded with her–which means she can also be terrifying. This is what I mean when I say Erzulie is not just a creature feature. The women interact with the goddess and she is not an all-evil or all-good character.
On this topic, I loved Scott’s performance. She is all-in on being a swamp goddess. Another Erzulie-focused bright spot is Chen’s choice to use practical special effects. The title character looked fantastic in all of her forms and I only noticed a brief bit of computer effects.
Erzulie is not without its issues, such as the plot threads of the environmental problem, the problem with Rhett, and what to do about Erzulie being too much for a film that is shy of 90 minutes. This leaves parts feeling underdeveloped or hastily thrown together. And of course some of the acting not fitting in with the rest of the movie.
All that said, I recommend Erzulie for fans of indie horror. I had a lot of fun watching it because the movie does plenty of things right too, such as Erzulie’s story, the friends and how they act together, the locations, a satisfying ending, and more.
Also, given the disappearingly small budget and this being Chen’s first feature, I am inclined to be generous. I hope she can make more movies and have better budgets with which to do so. Chen is a director to watch.
Consumers needing content warnings are urged to check out Erzulie’s page on Does the Dog Die by clicking this link: https://www.doesthedogdie.com/media/892452