Now may not be the best time to release a popcorn pic about people dying in Louisiana, but as mindless scare machines go, Dimension Films' bayou-set slasher thriller acquits itself well enough. Gratuitously gory and derivative to the core, "Venom" manages to deliver some effective frights in between large swaths of voodoo gibberish, but the atrociously ill timing all but guarantees a poisonous reception.
Now may not be the best time to release a popcorn pic about people dying in Louisiana, but as mindless scare machines go, Dimension Films’ bayou-set slasher thriller acquits itself well enough. Gratuitously gory and derivative to the core, “Venom” manages to deliver some effective frights in between large swaths of voodoo gibberish, but the atrociously ill timing all but guarantees a poisonous reception.In a Louisiana marsh, gas station owner Ray (Rick Cramer) attempts to save an old Creole woman from a car crash, unaware that she’s traveling with a suitcase full of venomous serpents containing all the demons she has exorcised from murderers in the past. After dying a ridiculously protracted death by drowning and snakebite, Ray is resurrected as a killer who, like Jason and Freddy before him, exists mainly to impale any teenagers stupid enough to cross his path. He has plenty to choose from, including a blonde who tries to rob his gas station (Bijou Phillips, putting her high-pitched squeak to good use), his own illegit son Sean (D.J. Cotrona) and various black and gay characters who are dispatched almost as quickly as they are introduced. On the smarter end are Eden (the uncannily self-possessed Agnes Bruckner) and Cece (Meagan Good), who alone knows how to fight the killer supernaturally. Hoary as the mystical elements are, scribes Flint Dille, John Zuur Platten and Brandon Boyce show a crazy conviction — one might even call it integrity — in their plundering of the supernatural, culminating in an elaborate voodoo ritual involving blood, candles and a fresh corpse that is educational, to say the least. Execution also benefits from the imprimatur of savvy “Scream” maven Kevin Williamson (here in a producing role) and relatively restrained direction by Jim Gillespie (who helmed the Williamson-scripted “I Know What You Did Last Summer”). Rather than bury the story in shock cuts, Gillespie and editor Paul Martin Smith ratchet up the tension slowly by letting scenes simply play themselves out. Ably capturing the region’s muddy earth tones and warm, candle-lit interiors, cinematographer Steve Mason also shows a knack for deploying offscreen space to spring some impressively nasty shocks. Gore level is very high and very red.