I think the aspect of horror I appreciate the most as a filmman is its accessibility. Horror films are very cheap to make, which means more money for awesome makeup and practical effects, and audiences are almost always guaranteed a fun time testing their bravery (unless it’s totally God-awful like Inferno ). A lot of the time movies of this genre are only barely passable because of bad writing and acting, but they can almost always make up for this with kitschy effects. Graphic kills and monsters who defy explanation helped define horror in the 70s and 80s, and it’s this era of films that provides the inspiration for The Void (2017).
Co-written and co-directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, The Void sets itself up to be an original take on familiar tropes and elements from other films. After a mysterious cold open set in a lone house in the woods, the film introduces us to Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole), a small-town cop with an emotionally distraught past who is awoken by a bleeding and manic twenty-something druggie stumbling out of the woods. Carter brings him to an old hospital where his estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) works, where, without giving anything away, strange and disturbing things start to happen in conjunction with the appearance of a horde of evil white robed cultists (is there any other kind?). They surround the hospital, forcing the small band of locals inside to defend themselves from what’s outside as well as escape from the strange Lovecraftian entities appearing inside.
For better or for worse, the writer/director pair accomplishes exactly what they set out to do in making an update on the kinds of horror films they probably grew up on. The familiar beats are all there, but the characters they have us tag along with on this hellish journey are almost all flat and uninteresting. Pages upon pages of script are dedicated to the handful of characters at the hospital explaining who everyone is until the plot barges its way through the front door in the form of two more unnamed characters from the cold open: an aggressive forty-something (Daniel Fathers) and mute twenty-something (Mik Byskov), who proceed to finally galvanize the rest of the cast into action. I guess having underwritten characters is in the tradition of the kind of effects-heavy horror they were going for, but it’s done so sloppily in The Void that it’s distracting. The only way we get any information about the characters is through forced expositional dialogue, and we both know you’re not really gonna care about what happens to these people since you don’t really know anything about them or what they’re like. They’re just taking up space until they get killed, and their dialogue feels like it’s filler until the next encounter in their “Call Of Cthulu” game.
There are a couple of exceptions to this. Ellen Wong and Mik Byskov, two of the younger actors in the film, actually give compelling performances that easily make both of their characters the best in the movie because they’re the only ones visually exhibiting any kind of emotion. While it’s a shame that the two of them aren’t in the film more, this is definitely made up for by the top-notch practical effects. I haven’t seen as many horror movies as others I know, but these were some of the best effects I’ve seen in awhile, which was in no small part because of the massive crowd-funded budget – specifically for the monsters. The physical designs of the creatures and the gruesome demented violence are very much on par with anything John Carpenter or David Cronenberg did. If this movie was made solely as an effects vehicle, then mission accomplished. I was more disturbed and kept in suspense by the well-executed (no pun intended) gory deaths and Lovecraftian visuals than by the plights of the underwhelming characters. It’s exciting to see such dedication to realistic practical effects pulled off so exceedingly well that they become the sole force of immersion in the movie.
I don’t know how much the Cthulu mythos has permeated pop culture, but the movie offers no explanation for any of it. I think that one can still enjoy the movie and follow what’s going on without lore-knowledge as there’s enough visual and dialogue-based evidence to where you can make strong inferences and connect dots in your head. However, this mysterious atmosphere only partially works; it’s frustrating when characters stonewall each other on dialogue that’s meant to develop character and plot in the moments where nothing is really going on. It also makes the cultists completely pointless since I guess standing in a large group is meant to still be scary after the second shot you see of it. Basically, if you decide to see The Void, then maybe take it with a grain of salt. It might be hard to find the movie endearing since it takes itself so seriously trying to freak you out, but if you can let yourself enjoy the ride it’s taking you on for what it is then you won’t regret it. For me, The Void set a very high bar with its effects and I look forward to seeing who’s insane enough to try to top this “Call Of Cthulu” LARP.