THE VOID (2016)
Directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
As a title, The Void may make you think of nothingness – yet that’s the last thing you’ll feel about it. Writer/ director team Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie are part of the goofy Canadian collective Astron-6. Until now they’ve leaned towards making the sort of retro horror-comedies you wouldn’t watch more than once (if that) e.g. Manborg. However, with their latest effort they seem to have matured a lot as movie makers, and I suspect that the genre we love may be all the better for it.
There’s no fucking around this time – from the first shot we know it’s going to be nasty. There’s violence on the edge of a sleepy town: a body lies bleeding in the hall, as a young man runs for his life from 2 guys with guns. Luckily, Officer Carter (Poole) is nearby to take him to the hospital. This small town cop, with obvious daddy issues, was assuming it’d be yet another quiet night on patrol. So you can guess he’s not happy when he gets there to find a robed cult gather outside with knives, a nurse cutting her own face off, a monster in the corridors and to top it off the guys from the start, with their guns, bounding in. If all this sounds like a scattershot approach to storytelling, that’s also somewhat derivative, don’t worry. All the pieces come together well, and in a way that’s really quite unique.
All credit to the movie on that last point –too often indie horror makers wear their influences on their sleeves, riffing on Carpenter, Polanski and Barker then throwing a synth soundtrack on top. This isn’t the case with The Void. During its best bits the film watches like an excellently captured nightmare. All the lighting, framing and blocking is on point and the gore is great. The creature effects may seem austere at first, with the beast being relegated to the shadows for the more suspense driven opener. But by the end of act three I’m confident anyone there for the monster will be more than satisfied. They’re gruesome as, yet strangely majestic. Combined with the absurdities going on elsewhere, it’s a pleasingly manic mixture.
Equally impressive is the thick atmosphere that builds up from the start, as different parts of the mystery are introduced. Since I rarely watch trailers then first I figured I was in for a tense siege tale ala Assault on Precinct 13. But by the end it had changed a lot, with my walk home consisting of a plotting version of join the dots. That’s not to say it cheats or relies on cheap turns – all the elements are there from early on. For instance, a triangle motif starts as a design curiosity on the cult’s robes, that soon becomes more sinister as we get a better idea of what it symbolises. The hospital foyer bits are also bad enough, but as our heroes/ antiheroes get into its bowels and go closer and closer to an interdimensional Hell, you’ll begin to genuinely dread what they find. The cast are strong too, with each taking well to their roles. We have Carter’s estranged nurse wife (Munroe), stroppy intern Kim (Wong), gentle doctor Richard Powell (Welsh) and unhinged Vincent (Fathers). The group tensions are reasonably judged and all parts are fleshed out, as they get tested, and some of the motivations are damn intriguing.
Less impressive is the script the team read from. While the concept is cool, the writing treads awkwardly between having too little exposition and too much dialogue. The villain, when we see finally them in the flesh, monologues endlessly in the sorts of vague evil sentiments and otherworldy clichés that make a human tale seem too abstract. The Void’s themes also are never really integrated with the story. For instance – there’s a subtext about coping with the loss of a child, which eventually gets elevated to main text as people witter on about loss and grief. Yet while it’s interesting to see this supply a motivation for the mayhem, its power is diminished by an menacing tone bad guy whose tone is incongruent with the arc we’re constantly reminded of. Consequently, I found the closing scenes an anti-climax and the film’s meaning pseudodeep. Still, for an exciting reintroduction to some skilled filmmakers, you’d be recommended to look into the void.