Overview: After finding a wounded man and bringing him to a hospital in transition, a Sheriff discovers supreme evil lurking below. D Films; 2017; Not Rated; 90 minutes.
Keep Watching: There is a scream, a gunshot, and a light between the trees. Quick, look closer: a girl is burning alive, the flame engulfing her body artificially bright next to the dusty, silverfish moon. In your horror, do you find yourself stepping forward unable to look away, or do you run? This is how The Void opens, a stumble for the audience upon a crime so ugly and shocking that the tone is firmly set, and from it never wavers. If this is just the beginning, what grisly vision of hell will follow, and are you in or out?
The choices that each character makes in The Void determines their complicity in and acceptance of the events that unfold, and the audience is involved in a similar—though much more passive—way. This is a conversation that the horror genre, and both its fans and detractors, have had for decades (most recently cleverly addressed in Resolution) but The Void plays from an angle that places the characters as bystanders just as much as the audience. The events unfold with little explanation or consideration for the swirl of circumstances that make them up, and somehow, it works all as grand coincidence. Confident performances all around and the knowledge that each of these characters knows each other personally in some capacity helps solidify this. Quite fitting to its name, The Void feels like coming across a bottomless pit with a churning morbid fascination at what may lay at its core. This seems like a strangely poetic reading of a gruesome gore-fest of a film and it is, but not without reason.
This isn’t my face: There’s always a trope to be found in any genre movie. The first we see is in Daniel (Aaron Poole), a shitty sheriff sleeping on the job. He’s awoken and sees a bloody man crawling from the bush and immediately brings him to a hospital that’s in transition: most of the staff are gone, most of the equipment and supplies are packed away, and its empty halls are so dim and depressing you can practically smell that old hospital reek of sickness. Everything happens so fast and as the darkened clouds roll in, we see that something is very, very wrong in and around this hospital.
Within the first 15 minutes of The Void, I was fully reminded of why I love horror so much. Firstly, it’s a stunning example of practical effects pulling from inspirations like Carpenter and Cronenberg, with dashes of Hellraiser, Baskin, and Silent Hill thrown in. There were so many nods and homages coming my way, it would be redundant to list them all. Old-school horror buffs will appreciate the FX taking the spotlight; some of the demonic, alien-like designs were absolutely gnarly drawing a reactive gasp, gag, or a holler. It’s been awhile since horror has felt this fun while still maintaining a mostly serious tone. Fans hoping for more of a comedic bend may feel it falls short, though sparse laughter can still be found. More than anything, The Void asks you to feast on the horror and the insanity, and invites you to join the others who are forced to watch the heinous acts unfold. Bloody and violent, when the action descends to the basement and what lies below, the hospital surroundings take on such a bizarre look that it feels like stepping into a haunted house. The cult-like figures that surround the place only heighten the terror and when everyone starts to lose it screaming “what the fuck was that!?” you might find yourself yelling the same thing along with them.
Beauty in the Madness: It’s obvious that every person involved in this film is an avid and passionate fan of horror, and it’s part of why The Void succeeds as a total thrill. But more than a just a thrill, it’s also a movie that got me thinking, and that’s the cherry on top, and where the poetry comes in. Just as each character has history with each other, they also carry baggage. Daniel’s daddy issues are getting the better of him and he’s reminded in turn what a disappointment he is by those around him, and his relationship with nurse Allison (Kathleen Munroe) is one that centers around mutual loss. The Void carries heavy themes of grief throughout from unspeakable losses. It would be easy to dismiss these themes and completely enjoy the film without them, but they add such a richness for those who go looking. Dr. Richard (Kenneth Welsh, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Legends of the Fall) is, as it turns out, absolutely consumed by grief to the point of mastering life and death becoming obsession. His lengthy monologues about human limitations and what is beyond echo in the ears with a sort of Bioshock nostalgia. And man, is it scary. Walsh pulls of the looming, sick performance taking things almost far enough to lose the audience’s empathy, reaching to heights of mania that glue your eyes to his changing body. At the same time like a ticking time bomb, the young pregnant Maggie (Grace Munro) shows us the other side of life and death through pregnancy and birth. These are tough themes even when shown in the light, but in this context they are powerfully brutal and disgusting.
The Void is not without its foibles. At times wobbly, the story is convoluted and it’s easy to miss important points. This makes the movie more suited to repeat viewings for when your hair isn’t blown back by the practical designs of the makeup and visual effects teams. Some characters’ relationships are sort of fogged over and feel like loose, distracting follow-ups to the overall story, and the ending is a bit of an abrupt question mark. Still, directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski display an instinctive discerning nature about fear, its different types and origins and they managed a finely tuned tension with confidence in the audience’s ability to handle the parallels. They know that Kim (Ellen Wong), a student nurse doing her first injection under heavy pressure is, in some ways, just as scary as seeing a woman strapped to a table listening to a madman talk and they dare to film disparate situations such as these both happening at the same time, flipping back and forth while maintaining that elevated heart rate that’s required to keep eyes wide in fear. They also have an eye for beauty and know the balance that such a film requires. Whether it’s police lights flickering in carnival-fashion across masked figures or shots of thunderous clouds, they prove that these two have artistic and clear vision, and it will be wonderful to see where their gifts take them beyond this absolute blast of bloody hell.
Overall: The Void is a solid addition to any horror enthusiast’s collection, a genre movie that sweetens the deal by heaping the plate and letting you come back for more. Learning that it’s a Canadian film only made it even more exciting, so that it’s now locked into my top 10.
Feature Image: D Films