It may be called The Void (Nevermore Film Festival 2017), but the film, which played at the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina on the weekend of February 24 – 26, 2017, is far from empty. On the contrary, it is chock full of horror goodness. A small group of people is trapped when the rural hospital in which they find themselves is surrounded by a silent but threatening group of hooded cultists. They soon find that far greater dangers lie deep within and under the hospital building, dangers that threaten their lives, their sanity, and their very existence. On the intellectual side, the plot is full of mystery, suspense, and existential dread. On the visceral side, cowriters/codirectors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski serve up heaps of gore and cool monsters. While it does harken back somewhat to 1980s fright flicks, it feels organic to the story, never venturing into the retro for retro’s sake territory that is all too common in recent years.
The Void starts with a literal bang. Two twenty-somethings are running from a rural house as they are pursued by two men, one younger and one older, both of whom are carrying guns. One of the escapees makes it away, but the other does not. Local police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) is sitting in his patrol car on a quiet country road when the surviving escapee, James (Evan Stern) staggers out of the woods and collapses. Officer Carter rushes him to the closest medical facility, which just so happens to be a small hospital in the process of shutting down. They had recently had a fire that damaged portions of the building, so the small staff is there primarily to pack up and to care for the very few patients that straggle in. Heading out to his vehicle, Officer Carter notices that the building is now surrounded by mysterious and menacing hooded figures. As the situation starts to degrade, suddenly the two gun-wielding men from the first scene fight their way into the hospital. At this point, to say much else would be to take away from the surprises the film has in store for its audience. Suffice it to say, not all is as it seems. The characters encounter mayhem, monsters, impossible spaces, and existential cosmic horrors over the remaining course of the film.
From its very first scene, The Void is filled with mystery. Trying to figure out just what is going on is part of the fun. The motivations of the various and sundry characters are cloudy at first, with the audience not quite sure who to trust. The nature of the hooded figures is equally mysterious. Nothing is creepier than a group of figures standing silently just at the edge of the light. As the film progresses, motivations and loyalties become clear. There are quite a few scenes of suspense, where the audience knows what is going on (or at least suspects it), but the characters do not. There are a number of times where viewers may find themselves yelling at the characters on the screen to try and warn them of dangers of which they are unaware. The tension level in some scenes is quite intense. The mystery and suspense are all in service of the thick layer of cosmic and existential dread that underlies the film. The stakes slowly rise during the proceedings and, by the final reel, there is a strong Lovecraftian vibe. It is not a pastiche of Lovecraft, but rather something that riffs on the many of the themes of the Mythos to present something that is both at once original and familiar at the same time.
To say that The Void is full of mystery and dread is not to say that it is empty of more visceral terrors. On the contrary, The Void is a gore hound’s delight. Once things start going downhill for the characters, blood, gore, grue, body parts, etc. fill the screen. And what brings about much of this splatter? The monsters. The film is a veritable bestiary of things that go bump (or go oozing) in the night. There are some pretty spectacular creature effects on display. The filmmakers do a great job of teasing the audience, letting them see just enough of the creatures to admire the craftsmanship, but also keeping them hidden in the shadows enough so as not to destroy the illusion that these things truly are alive. There are some occasions where the shadows are perhaps a bit too thick, but filmmakers still make sure their creations are still seen. Most of these effects appear to be practical, which give these beasties a serious weight and heft.
The use of practical effects and over the top monsters gives the film a bit of a 1980s vibe. Unlike many recent “retro” films, though, The Void is more than just an exercise in nostalgia. Instead, the style and effects are in service of the story and are used to create something new. There are some intentional nods to films of that era, but they do not feel heavy handed. Some of the creature effects, such as when tentacles are snaking out of a corpse’s mouth, are reminiscent of the groundbreaking work in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). What is nice is that the filmmakers use that comparison more as a starting point to go off in their own unique direction with their creatures and effects. Later, there is a character whose appearance calls to mind Skinless Frank from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987). Again, instead of simply being a copy, the filmmakers use this as inspiration for their own unique design. On the cosmic dread side of things, there is a shot that is an homage to Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981), which is fitting considering some of the thematic similarities between that film and The Void. These references are the not there strictly to get a nod of recognition from the audience. Instead, they are more like a composer using snippets of folk tunes to create something new. Overall, the filmmakers take inspiration from the films of the 1980s while still giving the film a fresh and modern feel.
The Void is full of all sorts of goodness for horror fans. It has mystery and suspense that build the tension to levels that can find some audience members wanting to shout warnings to the characters on screen. The sense of cosmic dread and existential horror builds up throughout the runtime, with the stakes increasing beyond what one would imagine early on. Gore hounds will not be disappointed as blood, gore, and grue is in abundance, thanks in no small part to the grotesque monsters and monstrosities that menace the human characters. The filmmakers use the practical effects and stylings of 1980s fright flicks as inspiration for creating something both fresh and familiar at the same time without being self-consciously retro. Those looking for a tense, scary, gory monsterfest that also manages to pack in a healthy dose of existential dread should be sure to seek out The Void. They will not leave feeling empty.
The Void (4.5 / 5)