THE VOID Review
Director: Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi
What would you get if you stitched together the goriest bits and pieces of Clive Barker, John Carpenter, and Lucio Fulci, shot it full of adrenaline, and sent it shambling towards audiences? A pretty damn good movie, actually! Brought to life by a crowdfunded micro-budget of $82,510, THE VOID is an ambitious love letter to the glory days of ‘80s blood-and-guts horror, and, remarkably, the purest realization of Lovecraftian terror since 1995’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. Built from the ground up and chock full of jaw-droppingly grotesque effects and creature designs, this is Gillespie and Kostanski’s answer to today’s paint-by-numbers approach to filmmaking (I’m looking at you, Blumhouse). To everyone urging a return to the heyday of practical effects and a move away from CGI reliance: it’s time to put up or shut up, because this is the Video Nasty splatterfest you’ve been calling for.
Opening on a woman being gunned down and subsequently set ablaze outside a dilapidated farmhouse as another would-be victim runs frantically into the surrounding woods, the first few moments of THE VOID don’t even begin to hint at the madness to come. The survivor, delirious and covered in blood, stumbles onto a lonely stretch of road where a rather lackadaisical police officer just happens to be wrapping up his shift. Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole), assuming the man is drunk before noticing the blood, takes him to a nearby hospital where all hell—no, worse—breaks loose. Soon, they and a ragtag group of bystanders including an untrained intern, a very pregnant girl, and her grandpa are roped into an unspeakably dire situation, finding themselves beset by stab-happy cultists, reanimated corpses, creatures too gross to pass as Cenobites, and a fate worse than death.
Just once I wish it was the KKK
Clocking in at a slim 90 minutes, THE VOID wastes little time getting into it. And boy do things go off the rails quickly. Admittedly, the story is about as barebones as it gets, but story hardly matters here. Instead of padding the movie out with pointless subplots or by answering unasked questions, masterminds Gillespie and Kostanski made the inspired call to go all out with their effects, ramping up the insanity until you forget just how disjointed their tale of bodily mutations, ritual sacrifice, and interdimensional portals is. As members of Canadian collective Astron-6, the duo cut their teeth doing makeup and design for the group’s numerous shorts, as well as on larger projects such as SUICIDE SQUAD, CRIMSON PEAK, and PACIFIC RIM, and every bit of experience they have picked up along the way is on full display here. There is more than enough axe-swinging and blood-spurting to satisfy the most demanding of gorehounds, but the real meat lies in the monsters the two bring to life (or undeath?) onscreen.
Barker, Carpenter, and Fulci, as well as the master David Cronenberg, all spent the better parts of their careers exploring the more troubling things that can happen to one’s corporeal form in grisly detail, and that same fascination is the driving force of THE VOID. Yes, the duo clearly wear their influences on their sleeves and some of the creature designs are perhaps a little too familiar— including a head-spouting tentacled mass straight out of THE THING and what is more or less a palette-swapped Frank Cotton from HELLRAISER—but the majority of their creations are so damn gnarly they forgive any cries of unoriginality. There is one in particular that is so bewildering I still can’t shake it—and I have seen everything. These two are clearly very, very talented, and their work here is undeniably impressive (doubly so when considering their meager budget of $82K). And, this is important, for what this film may lack in technical prowess, Gillespie and Kostanski more than make up for with their unwavering dedication to their vision.
According to WebMD, I have cancer
But beyond the film’s steadfast adherence to its singular vision, THE VOID deserves praise for another reason altogether: it never plays into the usual trappings of the horror genre. Astron-6 is known for their comedic send-ups of ‘80s trash cinema, but here they play it completely straight. There are no stereotypes or token characters in this movie. No one breaks the tension by cracking a joke, there is no nudity, and there is no overemphasis on creative, over-the-top deaths (what seems to be, increasingly, the M.O. of the horror genre). There aren’t any jarring volume spikes, fake-out scares, or lame copouts, either. Aside from a couple of questionable decisions made by characters here and there, much of what happens is rather logical. What we have are people, unaware of the true horrors that await them, reacting to a situation as it unfolds before them. It’s really quite refreshing, especially considering how often low-budget horror takes on a self-referential tone and/or doubles down on gratuitous fan service to distract from a weak script, and THE VOID is all the better for it.
Make no mistake about it, though. This is a low-budget movie through and through. It is thin on plot, character development, explanations, and just about everything else typically asked of a film. The filmmakers also noticeably cuts corners wherever possible, resulting in a few head-scratching moments. One particularly noticeable result of this corner-cutting is that this movie is dark—and I don’t mean in terms of subject matter, I mean literally. I was constantly squinting while watching, trying to discern what was happening in scenes taking place in locations such as an unlit parking lot, an unlit hallway, and an unlit basement, and it becomes readily apparent pretty early on that this darkness wasn’t an aesthetic decision but one made out of necessity, meant to hide the loose ends of a constraining budget. A really obvious example of this occurs when Carter tracks a monster down a well-lit hallway, rounding a corner to find it right where a light fixture happens to have been knocked down and broken. It’s pretty silly, and a little disappointing that the monster was mostly hidden, but totally understandable considering their limitations.
How weird! I, too, have cancer
Indeed, there are two ways to look at THE VOID. It could be a soon-to-be-forgotten, bargain bin B-horror flick marred by poor lighting, continuity errors, and an inconsistent quality in its effects, or these faults could merely be the birth-throes of the next kings of body horror. While the film unquestionably plays to an established, built-in audience, operating largely as a fan-service vehicle (it was funded by them, after all), and there may not be enough to suggest Gillespie and Kostanski as savants, the film positively oozes potential. And when you stop to consider just how small their budget was, any criticisms one could throw at this movie seem unfair at best, with “spiteful” not far off. By the same token, what they managed to pull off becomes not just impressive, but admirable. THE VOID, then, is more than just a labor of love, but hopefully a sign of greater things to come. Any way you cut it, this movie is not for everyone, and it is not meant to be.