I’ve found that growing up in the pre-internet, analogue media days has spoiled me to a degree. Back then seeing televised gore or sex required military precision. It could only be done late at night, as your parents had forbidden it, and that meant Ferris Bueller style sneakery was needed. Still, the sleazy Friday night movie was always worth the risk of a grounding.
Because watching the likes of Videodrome and Maniac was so explicitly prohibited and required genuine effort, I’m left with fond memories of those films. Modern films can’t compete: they exist in a world where, thanks to the internet, everything is a mere click away.
For me, any new movie is going to be up against memories of a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore. They’re just a volatile mix of things I’m supposed to enjoy, force-fed to me by the tendrils of the media, and made dull by the ceaseless sensory overload of a society that’s ‘always on’.
As to where The Void – the subject of this here review – fits into this old man Cronenberg rant, well it’s a new horror film, but one which gets me all nostalgic for those late nights sneaking down to watch John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon movies. Old-school practical FX goodness by a new generation of filmmakers: a film that reminded me of how exciting films can be, and why you shouldn’t watch body-horror when your stomach feels how Yog Sothoth looks.
The Void, like the current UK government, is the product of a fetishised Eighties: a point the directing team of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski make abundantly clear with their subtle nods to retro-horror cinema. Its brand of cosmic body-horror draws from many low-budget horror films; The Thing, Hellraiser, Prince of Darkness, Society, and Lucio Fulci‘s Gates of Hell Trilogy, to name a few.
There’s also the prerequisite healthy dose of Lovecraft, the legendary weird horror writer who (despite being eighty-years deceased) has more influence over the media than Rupert Murdoch.
On a routine patrol Deputy Daniel (Aaron Poole) encounters an injured young man who he takes to the local hospital. A hospital where Daniel’s estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) works. Awkward. There a crazed nurse (let’s call her Florence Frighteningale) stabs a patient to death, and shit hits the fan faster than the Weyland-Yutani Corp could say “acceptable loss of life”. Trapped in the hospital by cultists – who resemble a cross between Emperor Palpatine‘s Royal Guard and the Ku Klux Klan – a group led by Daniel find themselves up against tentacles, twisted forms, eye gore, and more gunk than an episode of Double Dare.
Playing out like a hybrid of Prince of Darkness and Assault on Precinct 13, The Void features a single location and large pool of expendable characters taken out one by one. Feckless idiots getting picked off by nasties is, in a nutshell, The Void’s plot. But as it’s ultimately more of a pure eighties horror beast than the marketing initially suggested, there’s a lot of metaphysical elements thrown in.
If you’re expecting a nonstop tentacle party, then The Void will likely disappoint. The film has a strong opening third, when the creepy cultists show up and the state trooper (with tendrils burrowing through his eye sockets) is consumed by the first amorphous monster. And the final third is appropriately hellish, featuring sublimely nightmarish occult imagery (a la Hellraiser II) and the eponymous ‘Void’.
But The Void’s middle section is a little flabby. There’s a lot of exposition about flesh and ‘how death isn’t the end’, like a Sunday school run by the bad guys from Videodrome. Some of this confusing Fulci styled dreamy rumination on the supernal works, but a lot of it doesn’t. Kenneth Welsh – of Twin Peaks fame – may be perfectly cast as the sleazy Frank Cotton style villain, Dr Richard, but boy does he go on and on about nothing.
At the centre of The Void’s diseased heart is a strong cosmic body-horror film. Akin to a good covers band, it pays tribute to the greats that came before whilst still standing on its own. Gillespie and Kostanski successfully combine the macabre creativity of (what I call) the ‘ugly thing that won’t die’ subgenre with perverse rural religion.
This unholy marriage results in fantastic imagery; such as Daniel’s fevered dreams of a primordial landscape, and the eldritch hospital basement including Dr Richard’s ‘workshop’ where the unwilling oblate are formed. Richard’s experiments really push the film’s modest effects budget, but they’re great. Sinewy, misshapen, heads where arses should be, flailing limbs, they resemble Princess Diana after the crash. And yes, I actually did feel sick at times throughout.
I do feel that The Void could have been better, however. The ending lacks the characteristic bleakness of Eighties horror and Lovecraft. Dr Richard opens the Void but this is resolved through Daniel’s heroic sacrifice. I was expecting a Hellboy style tentacles emerging from the sky moment. Instead the film ends on a disquieting scene that merely raises questions. The Void’s ‘big’ finale actually occurs before the end: in a wonderfully brutal encounter between Daniel and Allison.
Ultimately, the grisly latex monsters are merely gruesome pit stops on the slow march to a conclusion filled with cosmic dread and little else.