Note: Given the newness of the movie at the time of this post, we’re writing this one up with minimal spoilers. Feel safe(ish) to scroll down unless you want to go in totally cold. For the record, this one gets a recommend and going in totally cold is always advised by this website so proceed accordingly. You’ve been warned.
The Void is Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s entry into what someone in their troupe insists on calling “pure cosmic horror.” Minor spoiler: there isn’t that much “cosmic” here, but there is plenty of horror. The Void follows hero-cop Danny Carter as he heads up a group of hospital denizens desperately trying not to get murdered in said hospital. On a higher level it’s a great example of what practical effects can look like on a pretty strapped budget. Check out the podcast and trailer, then proceed to our review below.
Reviewed by: Mark
Plot Synopsis (ish)
The Void opens with the protagonist, officer Dan Carter, finding a meth head covered in blood on the side of a rural road. He takes him into a hospital where they, and the local hospital-folk, find themselves besieged by triangle-face robe-wearing knife-wielding cultists. I hate it when that happens. The narrative goes south from there as the group try desperately to figure out which is a larger threat: said cultists, the incredibly awkward social dynamics of a small town where everybody knows everybody, or perhaps it’s even the evil that is lurking within the hospital (bum bum bum).
What the Movie Does Right
This is pretty typical of “indie horror” as you might call it, but The Void has a very unique concept. It’s not that you haven’t seen these tropes before, because you’ll recognize the vast majority, but the way that the film stitches them together and goes in its own direction is pretty interesting. You’ll see some of The Thing (as they say in the trailer), some Prince of Darkness, some Event Horizon, some Last Shift, some As Above So Below; and even so it still seems that most of what it does is unique and new.
It would be essentially impossible to talk about this movie without mentioning the outstanding practical effects. There is a lot of violence in this movie, and it all looks great. I don’t have the total numbers in front of me, the effects budget for this movie was largely crowdsourced to the tune of around $80k. The effects here look good in their own right, but when you consider what they did with that budget it becomes exponentially more intriguing. From start to finish, this film brings the heat on a practical effects level, and for the most part it really shows a love for the craft. Hell, even the sparse CG effects look pretty good. I promised this would be spoiler-light so I’ll keep this brief, but there’s a scene roughly two-thirds of the way through the movie that is pure nightmare fuel, and it’s driven entirely by these practical effects. It is the polar opposite of Jaws 3D.
It’s not everyday that movies really fucking nail the artistic style. I could mention the in-film aesthetic here as well because the cinematography and design of aforementioned practical effects all agree with each other very well, but really what I’m getting at is the promotional art. Maybe it’s that I have to make those montages everyone month for HRR, but I’ve really come to appreciate a good poster when I see it. The void has them in spades. Now, granted, this doesn’t have much to do with the movie itself, but here at A-Z we like to give credit where it’s due. Thumbs up to those graphic designers.
What the Movie Does Wrong
For as flattering as I was on the effects earlier, I feel like the effects need to be brought up here as well. There are numerous times where you can pretty clearly see the film bumping up against its budget. Much of Act 1 is shot with the scary things mostly shadowed or hidden behind the lighting. Although I understand the necessity of doing it this way, there are still times when it becomes transparent what they are doing and subsequently breaks the immersion a bit. Beyond that, there is a lot of flickering lights in this movie. If you are photosensitive at all I’d be tempted to steer you away. I’m not epileptic or anything (thank god... this movie may have literally killed me), but I do tend to get headaches when there’s a lot of bright/dark contrast in things, and this movie made me physically uncomfortable in that way. It’s not Mickey Keating level, but it’s close. For the record, most of those issues are contained within the first act, so maybe just keep the lights on until the gang goes downstairs (not really much of a spoiler… people go down stairs in this movie).
I wrote earlier about how great the concept of the movie is. I stand by that, but the execution side of the story rating leaves much to be desired. There’s an iota of character development to be had between two of the main characters who shared a past relationship, and another bit about the eventual antagonist, but basically everyone else is left as a mystery. It’s hard to give high marks when only about a third of characters have a semblance of backstory, and even they hardly fit into the narrative. The story itself isn’t terrible, but it does fall apart very easily if you start asking too many questions. The film is a lot more fun if you just blow right past those issues and enjoy it for it for what it is. It’s one of those where you probably won’t know any of the character’s names, but won’t care too much about it.
Tying in a bit with the last point, the dialogue is a bit cringe worthy at times. There are exchanges between characters that are mind boggling at best and utterly immersion breaking at worst. I mean... granted... that’s mostly par for the course with this genre, and you probably aren’t watching this film for the dialogue, but I can’t help but feel they could’ve helped themselves out immensely in the aforementioned character development department with a slightly more polished script.
The last thing I’m going to touch on includes a bit of a spoiler, so pass on to ratings if you don’t want to hear it, but if you’re going to bill your movie as “pure cosmic horror” and prominently feature space on most of your posters shouldn’t you… you know… include anything from space in your film? There is nothing cosmic about this horror, unless you are inclined to describe Lovecraftian as cosmic. I think it’s fair if you do so, but there’s enough space represented on the posters that I’m still thinking it’s a misuse of verbiage. Space got nothing to do with this shit.
Story: 5 - This is the tale of two ratings. I think story has two components: concept (good) and narrative (bad). Overall, like I said earlier it’s pretty impressive that this movie hasn’t been made before. You may have seen something like it, but nothing quite like this one. That differs immensely from the countless ghost movies and home-invasions that pervade my instant stream queue. Unfortunately where pen meets paper there are plentiful holes. Frankly, I’m still confused why most of these characters exist, and I’m generally willing to give movies the benefit of the doubt in this category.
World-Building / Immersion: 7.5 - If you are the type of person who is capable of turning your brain off a bit and blowing right by a few of the character development based plot holes then you will probably be sucked straight into this one. It invokes a bit of the Last Shift in its “funhouse on rails” delivery where you sort of go from room to room experiencing new scares and effects. That type of shit really appeals to me. What takes you out? Lighting that actively punishes you for looking directly at the screen, instances of bumbling dialogue, and a few moments where the effects fall flat.
Scare-Factor: 7.5 - This isn’t a movie that will leave you squeezing out a diamond at the end of the night, but there are numerous scenes that are pure nightmare fuel. The Void is interesting because it shows you all of its cards in every scene. You aren’t exasperated waiting for something to be revealed, instead you’ve already seen what has been revealed and you just have to deal with it. If you aren’t accustomed to horror, or you are showing this to someone who isn’t acclimated to this type of horror (more likely if you’re reading this website) this is grounds for pure, unrelenting terror.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6.5 - First off, I love the costumes in this thing. The triangle faced cult robes are great set pieces. Second off, given the magnitude of special effects built into this movie it feels strange that I want to give it points for judicious lack thereof. The movie pulls its punches in such a way that most things look great, but every once in awhile you can tell that things aren’t what they seem. There are times when can see the boundaries that the budget of the film enforced either in the effects being shrouded in shadow for many scenes, or premature cuts when people get attacked so that the makeup can be toned down a bit. I get why they did it, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are moments where it can be immersion breaking. I want to underline that I’m being overly harsh here, and what this group did on this budget is wildly impressive. The other two reviewers gave it an 8.5 and 9, and I totally understand where they’re coming from. It’s certainly possible that I’m just a curmudgeon.
Overall: 7 - I honestly don’t have much more to say here, but it’s notable that during our discussion for the podcast, all three of us at one time or another described this movie as “fun.” That might be selling it wrong a little bit, because this isn’t fun in the same way that Monster Squad or The Cabin in the Woods is fun, but it’s more fun in the traditional horror sense. As soon as you can get your hands on it (4/7/2017), go check out this movie.