Released: 22 September 2016
Director: Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie
Distributor: D Films
Budget: $82,510 (minimum)
Stars: Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Daniel Fathers, Mik Byskov, and Kenneth Welsh
Deputy Sheriff Daniel Carter (Poole) brings an injured man to a hospital to treatment and is soon trapped inside by a hooded group of psychopaths. When Vincent (Fathers) and Simon (Byskov) violently enter the building looking to kill Carter’s patient, the few occupants find themselves under threat from horrific creatures that dwell within the hospital’s dark catacombs and tangled up in a doctor’s twisted desire for immortality.
I don’t quite recall exactly how The Void came to my attention; it was probably including on one of WhatCulture’s many lists that I routinely watch on YouTube in an attempt to discover new avenues of horror or science-fiction that may have otherwise passed me by. Regardless, The Void was crowdfunded by directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie after the latter was inspired by overhearing fellow director Guillermo del Toro’s desire to see a fresh filmic take on the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Having amassed a small budget to cover the cost of their creature effects, and following a difficult shoot, the low-budget production made its debut at Fantastic Fest on 22 September 2016, its Canadian premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in the following October, and, while a limited release only saw it make just under $150,000 at the box office, the film received strong reviews for its gruesome practical effects and bleak tone.
I went into The Void with few expectations and little to go on other than that it seemed to be a low budget horror affair in the vein of the likes of H. P. Lovecraft and came out it if relatively surprised. It wasn’t what I expected it to be (the misleading box art and posters, which hint towards an otherworldly beast of some kind, didn’t help) but once I got over that and caught on to the film’s basic premise and brand of mindfuckary it proved to be a decent enough experience. Is it perfect? Of course not, but then few films ever really are. When it comes to low budget horror, though, I am satisfied as long as the acting isn’t too corny, the film isn’t full of shaky cam and piss-poor lighting, and that it uses what resources it has well. Thankfully, The Void ticks all these boxes since it’s not filmed as a found footage movie and isn’t full of annoying handheld camera movements and it makes effective use of lighting and darkness to create just enough tension and horror rather than bathing the film in a sea of black.
As for the acting…well, it’s serviceable enough. It’s hard to expect much from a cast of unknowns (well, they’re unknown to me, at least, with the exception of Ellen Wong) but the handful of actors we do have do a decent enough job at conveying enough emotion and personality to help drive the plot forward, Aaron Poole makes for a pretty believable and relatable everyman; he’s constantly living in the shadow of his hero cop father, tormented by the loss of his child, and constantly on the back foot despite his best efforts to calm the situation and take charge. While he does appear somewhat ineffectual and comical at times (it seems he’s getting attacked and/or knocked out every five minutes in the film’s first half), this largely serves to make his character more human and vulnerable; Carter isn’t some flawless action hero, he’s just a regular cop in an extraordinary and terrifying satiation who is trying to do his best and I think that comes across quite well.
Supporting Carter are his ex-wife, Allison Fraser (Munroe), and a handful on staff at the hospital who are largely just innocent bystanders and/or cannon fodder for the film’s gruesome monsters. Like Carter, Allison is a relatable and likeable enough character; clearly she still has feelings for her ex and they have unresolved issues after their child’s still-birth and she is oftentimes exasperated by his stubbornness and the loose ends they have yet to tie up but she is surprisingly cool under pressure and proactive, rushing off to get pain relief for the pregnant Maggie (Grace Munro) despite the danger and trying to calm tensions as the rise.
Opposing Carter and his fellow victims are not just a group of nameless, faceless hooded figures with knives but also Vincent and Simon, two hot-headed and potentially dangerous individuals who burst into the hospital to kill James (Evan Stern) because of a previous run-in with him and the aforementioned hooded assailants. Though Simon was injured and cannot talk, he grows to become the more humane and level-headed of the two but, honestly, I gravitated a bit more towards Vincent as the film’s reluctant hero. He never truly fulfils this role, however, remaining a loud-mouthed, confrontational, self-absorbed asshole for the majority of his screen time even as he’s sacrificing himself to give Simon a chance to escape. Such aggressive anti-heroes are commonplace in life-or-death situations seen in horror films but, while Vincent does begrudgingly agree to help Carter, he never quite steps into the role of a true hero, which is a shame but, at the same time, has a certain realistic undercurrent to it.
The film’s premise is pretty simple but is made far more complex by The Void’s commitment to keeping things as vague and unexplained as possible. Even when Dr. Richard Powell (Welsh) is revealed to be responsible for the carnage that has unfolded and is expositing his motivations, it’s all very cryptic and vague and left largely up to the viewer to interpret. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter; it’s one of those situations where the horrific and impossible has happened and the film’s characters, like us, just have to deal with it as best as they can. They are besieged by maniacal hooded figures, betrayal and mistrust, an ever-warping reality, and some truly ghastly looking creatures and, in the end, the primary concern becomes one of survival rather than exposition.
As I said, I went into The Void expecting a slightly different movie; I imagined it to revolve more around characters drawn into some ancient and demonic cult who wish to conjure some grotesque creature from beyond out world but, instead, it’s kind of a siege move as our protagonists are trapped inside of a hospital and unable to escape, left at the mercy of the creatures that prowl its dank catacombs.
The majority of The Void’s budget was apparently spent on developing the film’s practical creature effects and it really pays off; there are no computer-generated monstrosities here, just good, old-fashioned rubber and latex and large, man-made fiends that are disgusting to look at and terrifying in their design. What’s better is that The Void’s monsters vary; the first one we see is this weird, tentacle-spewing, almost insect-like human/monster hybrid but Powell’s experiments have birthed all kinds of abominations, from chewed up torsos to zombie-like corpses.
After suffering a fatal stab wound, Powell dies but, thanks to his experimentations with what is presumed to be the occult or some kind of similar, ancient dark magic, he returns to life undead and changed, determined to use the techniques he learned from the titular Void to bring his deceased daughter’s soul back to life. In his undead form, Powell is far more than a bloodied, unfeeling zombie; he mutilates his own flesh and skin but remains articulate, intelligent, and focused the entire time, offering the survivors their deepest desires if they but willingly join his cause.
However, while being united with dead loved ones or gaining the power of immortality may be tempting, Powell’s methods are…questionable, at best, and their results are macabre to say the least. First of all, those he experiments on are violently torn apart and transformed into grotesque monstrosities that live only to devour human flesh with their tentacles. Thus, when he offers to restore Allison’s unborn child, she is exploded into a vine-like eldritch nightmare than Carter is forced to put out of its misery with an axe and, when he successfully brings his own daughter back to life, it is as a hulking, bestial affront to life than crushes skulls beneath its weight.
In the end, The Void leaves the viewer with more questions than answers; it’s never made clear how Powell discovered the dark other realm he draws his power from, or quite what it is he found in there. There is simply the terrifying suggestion that there is more to the world, the reality, that we know and that death can lead to a monstrous rebirth in the right circumstances. Carter, dying from a fatal stab wound and determined to ensure that Powell’s threat is forever destroyed, doesn’t hesitate to tackle the insane doctor into the unknowable Void, sacrificing himself to close the demonic realm off from ours and leaving it up to the viewer to interpret just what all those triangles and nightmarish imagery means.
The Void was a suitably thought-provoking and disgusting little mind-fuck of a movie. Its premise is pretty simple and cliché, to a degree, but elevated by the quality of its practical effects and the more obscure elements it pulls from the work of writers like H. P. Lovecraft. In a world where CGI largely dominates, it’s refreshing to see more traditional methods being used for creature and special effects; it gives The Void far more appeal for its imagery and monsters alone, though these aren’t necessarily enough to elevate the entire movie up to where it potentially wishes to be. In the end, it’s a decent enough horror film that picks and chooses some of the more macabre and obscure elements of horror fiction that succeeds at being both repulsive with its gore and creature effects and at keeping the audience guessing about what is really going on but it can’t be denied that there are better movies out there that achieved the same goal in much more satisfying ways.
Have you ever seen The Void? If so, what did you think of it? Did you appreciate the film’s practical creature effects or do you think the film was aiming a little too high and overreaching a bit in its scope? Do you have a favourite monster/horror film? If so, what is it and why? Can you think of any other horror films that evoke the work of H. P. Lovecraft? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.