The Void: A Horror Fan’s Wet Dream

THE VOID: A HORROR FAN’S WET DREAM

BRENDAN VIDITO

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Let’s face it, cinema is in love with the past and this statement couldn’t be more accurate for the horror genre today. Recently we’ve seen retro throwbacks like Ti West’s House of the Devil, the spectral STD flick It Follows, Adam Wingard’s The Guest and the Netflix original series Stranger Things. These titles all have one thing in common: a desire to capture the spirit of the 80s, when horror was fun. Thankfully this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon, as shown by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s practical effects masterpiece The Void.

The film opens with a woman getting burned alive at an isolated farmhouse and quickly spirals into even higher levels of violence and insanity. The sole survivor of this massacre is found by local cop, Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole), and rushed to a nearby hospital. The place is managed by a skeleton crew and stocked only with the bare minimum of medical supplies. Soon, strange noises fill the sky, Daniel begins dreaming of a hellish, otherworldly landscape; white-robed cultists surround the hospital, and the people inside begin to mutate into horrible creatures. The reason behind it all is more horrifying than anyone could possibly imagine.

This brings me to the movie’s setting. Not only is it a hospital—which is scary as a matter of principal—it’s a burnt out, semi-abandoned hospital in the middle of nowhere. This is as close as it gets to a perfect horror movie location. Hospitals have been used to great effect in both Halloween II and The Exorcist III, but I have to say The Void one-ups these revered sequels in terms of how it makes use of the location both dramatically and visually.

Once inside the hospital, we’re introduced to the rest of the cast. My favorites include Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh), who Twin Peaks fans will recognize as the chess-obsessed evil genius, Windom Earle, and Kim (Ellen Wong), the nurse in training with a morbid streak. In her first scene, she’s sitting by a patient’s bedside showing him graphic images from a medical textbook, while The Night of the Living Dead is playing on a television in the background. What’s not to love about that?

 

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The acting throughout the film is pretty solid. None of the performances are earth shattering, but they’re not necessarily bad either. I will say this, though: if you have a nagging suspicion while watching the movie that it might be Canadian, that suspicion will be confirmed the moment you hear one of the characters say “about”, or rather—when spoken with the inflection of my people—“aboot.” It made me laugh. Then I remembered my own, apparently, thick Canadian accent and promptly silenced myself with a forkful of bacon poutine.

Anyway, if I were forced to give you one reason, and one reason only, to check out this movie, it would be to gawk at the incredible practical effects. The filmmakers, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, are part of a Canadian film production company called Astron-6. Not only have they worked on several big budget features in the makeup and art departments, they were also responsible for practical effects-heavy movies such as Manborg and Father’s Day. In short, these guys know their stuff, and it appears they’ve carried all that knowledge over into the making of The Void.

In a time when the film industry is oversaturated with CGI, the practical creatures and gore effects of The Void are like water in the middle of a desert. They’re so well realized, in fact, that they stand alongside the work of some of the best artists in the business, like Rick Baker, Greg Nicotero and Rob Bottin. The monsters are nothing short of spectacular. They look like a cross between the Necromorphs from the Dead Space series of video games and the creature designs of artist Guy David (of BPRD fame). They’re disgusting and horrifying, and have the added advantage of being actual physical objects sharing the same space as the actors. Take my word for it: The Void is the most satisfying effects-driven horror film in recent years.

 

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Narratively, however, it’s a little bumpy. The pacing is relentless, and throughout its roughly ninety minute runtime, it never loses any steam, but barely a moment is spared to flesh out the characters. The way the women were portrayed was another thing that bothered me. For instance, the teen mother-to-be, Maggie (Grace Munro), is largely incapacitated for most of the film. And let’s be honest, when there’s a pregnant lady in a horror movie, we ALL know how that’s going to go down, and it’s not going to be pretty. On top of that, Daniel’s ex-wife, Allison (Kathleen Munroe), while showing some promise early on, is quickly relegated to damsel-in-distress status. What I’m getting at here is the women in this movie serve as plot devices rather than being fully realized characters. I understand that many horror flicks from the 80s, some of which inspired The Void, placed their female characters in similar predicaments, but honestly we’ve seen this kind of thing a hundred times before. The movie would have been a little more interesting had the filmmakers avoided such well-worn tropes in favor of something new and fresh.

One of my favorite aspects of the script was how it juggled so many different elements of the horror genre without feeling jarring or bloated. It’s not fair to call this movie a pastiche, but it’s definitely transparent about its influences. For seasoned horror fans it almost becomes a cinematic version of one of those I Spy books as you strive to point out the various callbacks to genre classics. I noticed some clear nods to H.P. Lovecraft, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. And even with its many visual and narrative callbacks, it never feels plagiaristic. It honors its influences and borrows some of their individual components to build an original story that is both compelling and artistically satisfying. Simply put, The Void is a horror fan’s wet dream.

To wrap things up, The Void is an excellent, though sometimes uneven, low-budget horror film that makes this little dude proud to be Canadian. So, if you’re craving a fun and well-made horror flick, check it out, you’ll be grateful for the nightmares.

 

BRENDAN VIDITO is a novelist and short story writer from Northern Ontario. His stories have appeared in several places including Dark Moon Digest, the anthology Splatterpunk’s Not Dead, and the upcoming Dead Bait 4, and Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath. You can visit him at brendanvidito.wordpress.com