The Void is a independent Canadian horror that valiantly attempts to blend B-Movie subject matter with an art-house mentality. Bravely taking cues from an eclectic menagerie of influences; including John Carpenter, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Lucio Fulci and even 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film tries to merge a simple creature-feature premise, with an inter-dimensional narrative concerned with the hefty themes of life, death and existentialism.
Whilst the ambition and imagination here is certainly to be commended (It would definitely be nice if more horror films aimed this highly), the resulting product is still only average at best. Lifeless characters, poor pacing (particularly in the languorous second half) and a tendency to disappear up its own arse, all help to hinder this movie from succeeding, either as the philosophising think-piece that the film-makers clearly want it to be, or the fun schlockfest that it obviously should have been.
The plot centres around a cop (named Daniel) who finds a badly wounded man limping down a secluded woodland road. Unsure of exactly what has happened, Daniel takes the (presumed) victim to a nearby hospital, which is currently being staffed by a limited skeleton crew. As the doctors begin treating the young man, Daniel hangs around so that he can ask him some questions. However, before he can do that, things get out of hand and people start inexplicably transforming into hideous, fleshy monsters. Not only that, but when Daniel tries to subsequently evacuate the premises, he discovers that the building is entirely surrounded by an army of strange cultists. Faced with dangers from both inside and outside, Daniel decides to lead a few survivors down into the basement level of the hospital, which (for baffling reasons) is also a portal to some kind of hell-dimension.
From here on out, the narrative is so frustratingly obtuse and overblown, that you couldn’t really spoil it even if you tried. The problem is that several basic components of coherent storytelling are jettisoned completely, in favour of indulgent, abstract, arty weirdness (Including recurring and totally mystifying inserts of a floating space-pyramid).There’s no logic to anything that happens, no clearly defined sense peril or consequence (is this supposed to be an apocalyptic scale threat, or a smaller one?), and several key pieces of information are left annoyingly vague. You won’t know why anything is happening, you won’t know how it all began, and frankly, you won’t know why you should care.
To be fair, when the villain finally reveals themselves at the end, they do offer a little bit of explanation, via an incessant, droning, and incredibly pretentious monologue. But whilst the gist of their plan is sufficiently communicated, you’ll still be left with more questions than answers, like; ‘How did they even come to the conclusion that this insane plot would work?’ ‘What research did they do to get this far?’ ‘How did they accumulate their immense following?’ ‘What do they intend to do in the long term, and why are they full-on sadistic at some points but not others? Wasn’t their motivation supposed to be that they’re just tragically misguided, not evil?’
Now it is obviously true that giving away too much can be detrimental to the ambiguity that is integral to horror. Just see Rob Zombie’s Halloween for proof. However, viewers do need something to orient themselves with. They honestly don’t need to understand everything that’s happening, but at the same time, they do need to understand some of it.
On a related note, it would be helpful if we at least had interesting characters to properly anchor us into the situation, but none of them here are really developed beyond their age and occupation. Like it’s very hard to care about what’s going on when A) It’s beyond perplexing and B) it’s happening to drips like ‘Middle-aged Policeman’ and ‘Young Nurse’.
There’s even a pair of mysterious characters who show up part way through the film, with an implied knowledge of what’s going on and an unexplained desire to kill the wounded man from the opening. Naturally, you’ll spend the whole film waiting for some kind of exposition that clarifies who they are and what they want, but it never actually comes. Or if it does, it’s very poorly signposted.
So The Void doesn’t give you too much reason to be invested in its story, which certainly kills the art-house side of the film. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the creature-feature stuff can’t uphold its end of the bargain, right? Well yes and no.
It’s true that the monster design is absolutely this film’s greatest strength, presenting the viewer with all kinds of distorted and grotesque abominations (think Hellraiser’s coenobites crossed with The Thing’s aliens). The practical effects bringing these nightmare to life are mostly great as well, with a roughly 60/40 split between ‘really good’ and ‘slightly rubbery’. Moreover, at least these weaker instances of make-up are usually obscured by either dim lighting, strobe effects, or just props blocking out part of the frame.
The gore- when it actually occurs- is pleasingly unrestrained and rather well executed. It’s unquestionably the highlight of the film. In fact, the whole thing peaks wonderfully in a 2nd act sequence wherein loads of visually diverse monsters all awaken simultaneously, and one of them then starts to horrifically self-harm. Nevertheless, everything starts going rapidly downhill after that, as the ‘cerebral’ aspect of the narrative comes to the forefront, and any sense of gruesome fun is totally abandoned.
So whilst the film is far more adept at being the B-Movie that its marketing misleadingly promotes, it still isn’t wholly satisfying. If it fully embraced the stuff that it was actually good at, The Void could have been excellent, if still a little flawed. Sadly, what you get instead is about 8 minutes of enjoyable splatter and cool creatures, surrounded by an admirable failure that is otherwise slow and kind-of boring.
The Void (2016), directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, is distributed in the UK by Signature Entertainment. Certificate 18.