An old school friend of mine shares much the same interest in indie horror as me, so when he recommended The Void, I didn’t waste any time in requesting a copy. As soon as I started watching it, I realized that I heard about this way back in the distant past of 2016, when it debuted to a strong critical reception at Fantastic Fest, the Texas film festival co-founded by Ain’t It Cool’s Harry Knowles. The Canadian movie has already garnered a cult following, and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s a nifty little low budget, indie horror movie, the likes of which I generally enjoy, provided the filmmakers know what they’re doing, and know how to work within the budget they have. This isn’t always the case, as seen in movies like Black Mountain Side, and Einstein’s God Model, but it’s mostly the case that indie directors know themselves, and their story, well enough to shoot tight and lean. The pitfalls of that approach are that a 90 minute movie will inevitably contain filler scenes in order to convey exposition of content too expensive to film. The Void definitely contains a couple of these scenes, but the majority of the movie is pretty engaging, I thought. It helps that the writer-director combo of Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie are not working with a completely miniscule budget, but they also know their stuff in a way that reminded me a little of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the makers of Spring and Resolution.
The story is mostly set in a hospital that’s about to move to another location after a fire in the current building. Operated by a skeleton staff late at night, with only three patients, they’re soon joined by a cop, and a couple of tough looking characters who appear in the prologue. Trapped in the hospital by a group of robed cultists on the outside, they soon find themselves in the middle of an event of cosmic, Lovecraftian horror.
I usually take great exception to the overused “Lovecraftian” adjective tossed around when describing (lazily) certain movies and literary fiction. As I’ve mentioned in prior reviews, I am a devotee of Lovecraft’s work, and it isn’t enough to throw that descriptor about when the movie contains a tentacled monster. If that’s all one gets from reading Lovecraft’s work, then a reader should concentrate on less challenging material. Lovecraft’s work was an extension of his personal philosophy, named thereafter as Cosmicism – it ran through all of his major works, leading to some of the most influential horror/weird fiction of all time. To reduce his work to mere monster stories comes across as insultingly simple-minded.
The Void certainly qualifies as a mildly Lovecraftian work, especially in the epilogue, and a couple of ominous deep space images, and for sure the motivation of the main villain. In the second half of the movie, the story comes to resemble Lovecraft’s classic work The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and the movie version of The Dunwich Horror – but I didn’t feel that any of these elements were particularly stronger than some of the other influences. Like Beyond The Gates, the movie feels highly influenced by 80s-era horror, particularly The Thing, and Brian Yuzna’s loosely adapted Lovecraft works, From Beyond and The Reanimator. Towards the end of Act 1, I was ready to shut the movie off in a fit of anger, though. It’s an early scene that features a monster, and the influence to the Carpenter movie was blatantly obvious. I’ve been incensed by this liberal theft in other movies, notably Harbinger Down, but fortunately The Void moves past it quickly, on its way to displaying the other movies it has cherry picked from. One basement scene feels like something out of a Fulci movie, and the revealed main villain owes more than a simple debt of thanks to the original Hellraiser.
Influences aside though, The Void is an entertaining indie horror, better than many of its peers, and this is less because of the story than it is because of the technical side. It opens with a really good prologue, intriguing and scene-setting, and when the story starts proper, the characters are well drawn for the most part. Most of the characters have motivations that are least well-defined, even if not fully compelling, and the cast is above par for this kind of production. I was impressed by Aaron Poole, who plays Daniel, the lead, and Daniel Fathers’ Vincent. In particular, I enjoyed the performance of Ellen Wong as the young intern, and I cannot stress enough the importance of the dialogue delivery of Kenneth Welsh. If there’s one thing an indie horror needs, it’s authenticity in acting, and it’s worth budgeting for. Welsh’s delivery is extremely important to the latter half of Act 2, in one particular scene. I was pleased to see Art Hindle show up in a small role – his performance in The Brood is one of my favourites in the horror genre.
The movie doesn’t escape criticism, though. As well as some good scenes like the prologue, some of the story just feels sloppy. I wasn’t exactly sure of the importance of the cultists in the movie, considering all they really seem to do is prevent the main characters from leaving the confines of the hospital. I wasn’t exactly sure why the hospital was even operating with a handful of staff and a couple of patients when there was another fully operational hospital relatively nearby – simply excusing this by saying “Welp, the movie couldn’t have happened without it” is to exhibit a lack of comprehension of story structure. Also, having two pregnancy subplots was redundant and wasted time in the narrative. Either one of them was fine, but they combine to produce a sense of bloat and lack of direction.
Story and plot deficiencies aside, I was impressed by The Void. It displayed a great use of minimal sets and the talent on display on both sides of the camera was of a higher caliber than can be seen elsewhere in low-budget horror. Like Moorhead and Benson, and Mickey Keating, I’m already looking forward to the next production from Kostanski and Gillespie.
© Andrew Hope 2017
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