As part of the Canadian film production and directing company Astron-6, Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie have collaborated on films which paid tribute to slasher cinema (‘Father's Day’), post-apocalyptic science fiction (‘Manborg’) and Italian "giallo" (‘The Editor’). Most recently, Kostanski and Gillespie co-directed ‘The Void’, a sombre departure from their more comedic work. Heavily influenced by late 80s/early 90s horror films from Clive Barker, Stuart Gordon and Lucio Fulci, it owes a particularly large debt to director John Carpenter's filmography (with some nods to David Cronenberg).
Small town cop Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole, ‘Forsaken’) picks up a possible drunk by the side of the road and brings him to the rural hospital run by Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh, ‘Twin Peaks’). His estranged wife, Allison (Kathleen Munroe, ‘Survival of the Dead’), is also a doctor there, along with Kim (Ellen Wong, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World’), an intern. An elderly man has brought in his pregnant granddaughter. A father and son arrive after a bloody farmhouse incident in the opening scene. These people soon discover that the hospital is surrounded by innumerable (and menacing) robed figures, trapping the hapless patients and hospital staff within. Then a giant tentacle monster starts growing out of one of the nurse's eyeballs. Off to a promising start, ‘The Void’ layers on character conflict amidst escalating horrors.
The film mashes together the structure of ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ (1976) (a group of strangers cooperate to survive the attack of an external force), thematic elements of ‘Prince of Darkness’ (1987), the grotesque practical effects of ‘The Thing’ (1982), and the Lovecraftian creepiness of ‘In The Mouth of Madness’ (1994). The result is a hybrid of cosmic horror and science fiction which isn't completely satisfactory or original, but is still very entertaining.
The most prominent feature of the film is how cool it all looks – the cinematography effectively harnesses the setting and enthusiasts will admire the film's audacity to show gruesome monsters with clarity, using low lighting for mood rather than obstruction.
The practical special effects for the creatures and transformations are excellent. Kostanski and Gillespie have worked in design and special effects on high-budget movies (‘Suicide Squad’, ‘Crimson Peak’ and ‘Pacific Rim’, amongst others), something which explains the visual exuberance of ‘The Void’, whose gore scenes and “para-genetic” atrocities evoke the aesthetic of the 80s, with the benefit of some state-of-the-art digital retouches.
The most prominent feature of the film is how cool it all looks – the cinematography effectively harnesses the setting and enthusiasts will admire the film's audacity to show gruesome monsters with clarity.
Another highlight of the film is the soundtrack from Blitz//Berlin, director Jeremy Gillespie, Brian Wiacek and Menalon, which is immediately striking, moody and evokes nostalgia for the time period the film homages.
Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe and Ellen Wong turn in the strongest performances from a cast of actors playing stock archetypes in a film that demands little more than screams, terrified stares and chopping up gooey tentacles with fire axes.
Thin characters aside, the chief weakness of ‘The Void’ is that it is so heavily influenced by Carpenter’s oeuvre that it has difficulty establishing its own identity outside of being a stylishly assembled patchwork (unlike other 80s-inspired fare such as ‘It Follows’, ‘You’re Next’, ‘Beyond The Black Rainbow’ and ‘The House of The Devil’). There is also a certain over-familiarity in the well-worn story of people trapped in a building under siege by evil forces.
‘The Void’ is an impressive production not just for an indie film (it was originally crowdfunded on Indiegogo), but for a modern horror movie in a category crowded with high-budget slop. If only the filmmakers could have harnessed a little more of Carpenter’s originality, and not simply his best scenes.