Dolls for Strangers (2012) – By Matthew Saliba

Ken Cohen’s "Dolls for Strangers" is a rarity in today’s day and age. In a time when filmmakers rely on cheap shocks and horrendous CGI to get a rise out of horror audiences, Cohen relies on the Hitchcockian method of building up a genuine sense of mystery and suspense.

The story centers on Tony (Mark Jurosko), whose sister Melanie (Shana Meyerand) has mysteriously lost the ability to use her legs. Tony has an inkling as to how this may have happened and it centers around a practice he himself indulges in – voodoo. Now while this is merely my own interpretation of events, I’m of the opinion that Tony was somehow responsible for this and as a means of atonement offers his services as a "voodoo hitman" to anyone wishing to benefit from his gift. Since his voodoo dolls actually work, perhaps by helping other people out, the burden of having crippled his sister can slowly (but never fully) fade away.

The beauty (and danger) of open-ended films is that they are open to interpretation. I may be completely off the mark here but I don’t think Cohen as a director really cares as he’s not trying to pull an Oliver Stone and bludgeon his audience to death with a heavy-handed message that leaves little to the imagination.

Mark Jurosko gives a solid performance as Tony, imbuing him with all the necessary creepiness one would expect of a practitioner of voodoo. And the concept of a "voodoo hitman" is actually quite unique and could almost spawn a new sub-genre if it ever catches on. The cinematography is really good, particularly the outdoor sequences. Some of the framing, however, is odd and the film could’ve used a lot more close-ups of peoples’ faces, especially the back-and-forth exchange between Tony and Melanie when they’re discussing his use of voodoo dolls and how he ought to try one of them on himself.

But all in all, Ken Cohen has definitely piqued my interest in him as a filmmaker and I look forward to seeing what comes next from his production company, Soft Blanket Productions.

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