LWA: ALL SAINTS’ EVE — PLOT SUMMARY
Monique Valliere is a young New Orleans businesswoman who’s recently lost her parents. They brought her up with Creole voodoo as their household religion, and left her the family business, a touristy voodoo gift shop that also conducts ghostly swamp tours.
When one of her tour operators calls out on a family emergency, Monique is forced to lead a group of five tourists herself into the eerie bayou of Louisiana, along with her sidekick Eric, on Halloween— also known as All Saints’ Eve.
Awaiting the group out in the swampland is a scary band of punk miscreants, led by Julia Devere, a sorceress who has made an evil pact with the voodoo spirits to summon a hellish power for herself from Marinette-Bwa-Chèch, a malevolent voodoo spirit known as a Lwa. Julia must appease Marinette’s bloodlust or face her wrath.
Monique’s battle against Julia to lead those who trust in her out of the cursed swamp is the basis for Lwa: All Saints’ Eve. Written and directed by Rick Prince (from SyFy TV’s special effects competition show FaceOff), this film explores the inner struggle of a reluctant heroine to resolve her modern life with the ancient traditions of her African tribal-based voodoo religion. Relying on practical special makeup effects (no computer-generated characters), the film pays homage to a rich tradition of supernatural thrillers and puts a twist on the fantasy-horror genre by its highlighting African-American and female characters.
Below you’ll find some explanations for some of the terms relating to voodoo religion as practiced in Louisiana.
ANGAJAN - /ahn-ga-JAHN/ — An pact made between a mortal and a lwa. The angajan is an oath to fulfill an offering made to the lwa in exchange for favor or power. In Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, Julia’s angajan with Marinette forms the basis for the plot.
BARYÈ-CIMITIÈ - /bar-YAY-sim-ee-tee-AY/ — A graveyard fence, a kind of spell used to trap a person.
BONDYÉ - /bawn-dee-AY/ — The supreme deity of the voodoo religion, a distant and unknowable creator. The name comes from the French bon Dieu, meaning “good God.” Practitioners of voodoo don’t believe that Bondyé will intervene in their lives directly, so they call upon the lwa to intercede on their behalf. In African voodoo, Bondyé is sometimes called Mawu, meaning “inaccessible.”
GUINEE - /ghee-NAY/ — Guinee is the spirit world in voodoo, the afterlife, and the plane of existence for the lwa. In Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, Julia vows to send Monique to Guinee…. to kill her.
LWA - /lwa/ — Any member of the voodoo spiritual Pantheon. The lwa are spirits that live on a plane separate from humanity, and serve as an intermediary between the chief voodoo deity, Bondyé, and humans. Although analogous to Christian saints or angels, their intercession requires sacrifice, prayer and gifts. There are numerous lwa, and each has a distinct personality, likes and dislikes, symbolism and kinds of required service. Marinette and Papa Legba are two of the lwa who appear in Lwa: All Saints’ Eve. There are over seventy lwa, although some are much more commonly called upon than others.
MAMBO - /mom-boh/ — A voodoo priestess. In Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, Ms. Theresa shows that she is a mambo by performing a ritual ceremony over Monique to protect her. Marinette was once a powerful mambo who became a lwa. The male equivalent of a mambo is called a houngan.
MARINETTE-BWA-CHÈCH - /mah-ree-NET-bwa-SHESH/ — A former mambo who was elevated to lwa status. Mischievous and evil, Marinette is an extremely powerful lwa who governs werewolves, screech owls and is universally feared in the voodoo community. She tends to ride those she possesses very hard and takes a physical toll on those who channel her. In Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, Marinette possesses Julia, and is portrayed by Aleta Myles.
PAPA LEGBA - /pah-pah-LEG-bah/ — The lwa who serves as the intermediary between this world and the spiritual plane. The keeper of the crossroads, he facilitates and grants permission for believers to speak to the other lwa. Papa Legba has a dual incarnation: the kindly Papa Legba, and the fearsome Legba Petro, who governs the more malevolent Petro nation of lwa. In Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, Papa Legba is played by Terrance M. Locke.
ROUGAROU - /ROO-ga-roo/ — A type of werewolf common in Creole lore. A corruption of the French word loup-garou, the rougarou is a fearsome creature under the protection and command of Marinette-bwa-Chèch.
VAUDOUIZANT - /voh-dwee-ZAHNT/ — A believer in voodoo.
VÉVÉ - /vay-vay/ — A symbol, often drawn on walls or on the ground, used to summon the lwa. Each lwa has his or her own vévés, and they are used to decorate altars, shrines or holy places for that particular lwa. Monique sees a vévé in her dreams that should does not recognize in Lwa: All Saints’ Eve.
VOODOO - /VU-du/ — Also called vodun or vodou, a religion that syncretizes African tribal religions of the Fon and Ewe people with Christianity. When slaves of West African descent were introduced to Haiti and Louisiana by Catholic traders, they adapted various elements of the religion of their captors to their own tribal belief systems, and the result became known as voodoo. There is no scripture central to voodoo, but the religion is highly codified through oral tradition. Still very much alive today, many regional variants in its practice exist, namely Haitian Voodoo and Louisiana Voodoo. Santería, a syncretic religion of Cuba, is similar to voodoo, but with a Spanish influence instead of a basis in French Catholicism. In Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, Ms. Theresa and Monique both practice voodoo as their religion.
LWA: ALL SAINTS’ EVE — THE VISION
When conceiving Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, writer/producer/director Rick Prince wanted to set a number of well-worn Hollywood horror tropes on their ears.
“Horror movies have become so formulaic within my lifetime that they are largely completely predictable,” says Rick. His interest in making something new and different led him to explore what’s missing from modern fantasy-horror films.
“I grew up in a multicultural environment, with friends of every ethnicity. As a horror fan, I was painfully aware from early on how much the genre counts on me as the target demographic, to the exclusion of so many of my friends.” Sadly, in horror circles, the token black guy gets killed first device is so overdone it’s become a punch line. “I wanted to make sure that we had a diverse cast with representation for everyone,” says Rick.
Raised by a single father working third-shift, Rick’s role models growing up were his grandmothers and aunts. Even as a youngster, he was keenly sensitive to how strong women have to be to make it in a world that often discounts them. That too was evident every time he went to the cinema. “Other than the victim scream queen, most horror movies lack an important female presence,” he says. “I hope to change that.”
With Lwa: All Saints’ Eve, Rick has created Monique Valliere, a modern black woman whom circumstance has thrust into a position of leadership. “What I love about Monique is that she rises to the occasion— she doesn’t like the swamp, but she goes anyway, because that’s what a strong woman would do,” says executive producer Pamela Dugas. “The Monique character was one of the most captivating highlights of the pitch. I thought, ‘Now there’s a woman in a horror movie I can relate to’—somebody who steps up and fights her attackers instead of just running around screaming,” says Pamela.
Respect for faith
Also interesting is the film’s reverence for voodoo as a religion. Viewers will note the lack of voodoo dolls, animal sacrifices, shrunken heads or other voodoo conceits. “At one moment, we actually make fun of the Hollywood portrayal of voodoo,” Rick laughs. As a living religion, voodoo should be treated with reverence and respect, and Rick has managed to do that, capturing and harnessing its lore in a spooky way all the while maintaining respect for it as a belief system.
Lead actress Ashley Love-Mills fell in love with the complicated character she plays for just that reason. “Monique’s battle between living in the modern world as an educated black woman, and maintaining the love and respect for a religion handed down from her ancestors is one that I think a lot of people struggle with no matter what their upbringing is,” she says. “Monique has been ridiculed for her faith, and the persecution of those who practice voodoo is a very real thing for her. I think Rick has done an excellent job of allowing Monique to be a believer and not become some kind of movie cliché.”
Other characters in the film show Rick’s personal predilections. As a veteran, he was keen to include Scott and Catherine (played by Bob Cousins and Sonya Thompson), a couple of ex-military officers on the tour. His nod to his chums from high school is seen in the trio of twenty-somethings (played by Percy Bell, Bralyn Stokes and Alaina Rose) who come down to New Orleans seeking a good scare. And his reverence for his grandmothers is seen in the figure of Ms. Theresa (played by Dianne Oyama Dixon), Monique’s spiritual advisor.
“Ms. Theresa is probably my favorite character in the film,” Rick says. “I wanted to provide a calm but authoritative voice of reason, a figure to guide and strengthen Monique as she prepares to fight for her life.” Ms. Theresa, a mambo (voodoo priestess) who works at the voodoo shop as a fortuneteller, uses ritual blessings to strengthen Monique’s resolve to address a scary situation head-on. “Her grandmotherly aspect is a way of thanking my own grandmothers, who gave me so much of that guidance when I was a boy,” Rick says.
But what of the bad guys? The plot hinges on an angajan, a ritual pact made between an angry young sorceress, Julia Devere, and Marinette-Bwa-Chèch, a member of the voodoo pantheon known as a Lwa. “The Lwa are to voodoo what saints and angels are to Christianity,” explains Rick. “They intervene in the lives of mortals and provide power, protection, and strength.” But these blessings come at a price.
“Julia is so hard and determined,” says Mars Melnicoff, the actress cast in the role. “She’s blinded by ambition, struggling to take on a power she doesn’t really even understand, and so desperate to get it that she loses sight of what it might cost her.” Even her three minions don’t rightly comprehend the scope of their involvement in the evil pact, or anticipate what they may be asked to do. “She’s a deceiver,” Mars laughs. “She’s shady. It was such a fun role.”
Fun is the watchword. At moments lighthearted, then deep and spiritual, then utterly horrifying, Lwa: All Saints’ Eve is a romp that will leave audiences wanting more, particularly regarding the film’s high-wow-factor special effects.
“Having done FaceOff on the SyFy network, I met so many unbelievably talented artists. I wanted to work with them again, and so I called a number of folks I met while in Hollywood.” Eddie Holecko, Steve Tolin, and Roy Wooley were all FaceOff veterans that Rick enlisted to help out on Lwa: All Saints’ Eve. Combined with the talents of Emmy-award winning prosthetics artist Ben Rittenhouse, they made a formidable crew that commanded dazzling practical special effects.
“CGI has become so prevalent and decreased in quality in recent years. We are losing the practical arts, which is a real shame. When human artists create actual prosthetics, special effects and makeup appliances, and then they are shot in-camera, it’s much more real for the actors as well as the audience. The effect is stronger and more believable,” says Rick.
Overall, the idea of the film is to be fun. “At one point in the film, Calvin (played by Percy Bell) says, ‘We came down here to get scared!’ and that is what we all do when we go to horror films. There’s the thrill of that gotcha moment, and the playful laughter at yourself for being scared during a movie,” says Rick.
Lwa: All Saints’ Eve is fun indeed, and the possibility of many more thrills exist in the future. “We left some room for wondering what’s next on purpose,” Rick says with a cheeky smile. “Voodoo is rich with vivid imagery to explore, and I would love the opportunity to go back into that world with our characters.”