The Void (2016, London Film Festival) Review

The Void is clearly a passion project for Stephen Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie. Dark, esoteric and strange, it’s not afraid of wearing its cult influences on its sleeve, fitting in alongside modern revivalist genre fare but managing to set out its own stake in the horror pantheon.

After a brief, shock introduction, the film introduces Aaron Pool’s sherrif Daniel, a laconic but otherwise sharp man, who picks up a stranger by the side of the road. On taking him to the nearest hospital, he and the staff find themselves trapped inside by a group of strange, hooded occultists — and soon they find there’s something in else in there with them.

There’s something about it that I really like; it taps into that odd subterranean part of the brain where twisting, tentacled and ancient primeval horror lurks, but also favours an oblique abstraction where terrifying monoliths hover over weather-blasted wastelands. Lovecraft, John Carpenter, Hellraiser — the inspirations are there, but The Void doesn’t quite bookmark them as readily as something like Stranger Things. It’s a solid bedrock to base a film like this on.

Then there’s the effects, which are absolutely sublime. It’s a real step-up from the well-meaning misfire of Harbinger Down, which equally attempted to resurrect the sort of body-horror missing in the recent The Thing prequel. They creatures are as equally Screaming Mad George (Society) as they are Rob Bottin (The Thing) and Stuart Gordon (From Beyond), squirming tentacled monstrosities that are wisely framed off-camera and mutated, near-unrecognisable corpse-creatures alike.

But they don’t make up the bulk of the film. There’s something of Prince of Darkness and Assault on Precinct 13 in the ragged band of police, nursing staff and patients who find themselves holed up together against the faceless gang outside. In fact, combining that with the “who’s next” horror of The Thing is something of an inspired turn and manages to lift the film beyond repetition.

But it does suffer a tad from over-familiarity. Where it really worked for me was when it relied on abstract, odd imagery — whether it’s the symbology of the cultists or the odd dreams that we witness through Daniels eyes. As the film moves further towards Hellraiser territory, it gets a little bit less interesting, a bit too familiar. That said, fans of the films mentioned above will still get a kick out of it and there’s enough originality, playfulness and movement in the story to keep you pulled in until the finale.

The cast do a great job, as does a solid script full of realistic dialogue. Aaron Pool carries the film solidly, charming and firm when needed. Funnily enough, the one actor I did recognise was Ellen Wong, who played Knives Chau of Scott Pilgrim fame, but sadly after a strong start, she’s sort of left without much to do.

And here’s the thing — the female characters themselves don’t have much to do, and that’s something of a shame. Kathleen Munroe’s Allison starts of strongly, but ends up more of a damsel in distress. Kim quickly turns into a mess as the stress of the situation piles on. And the three other female characters are barely introduced. I certainly feel it would’ve been nice to have seen them doing a bit more.

The horror is very male in its female-centric perversion of birth, which in itself is something of a trope that’s almost as old as time itself. That said — one sequence that splices together a birth alongside a veritable descent into hell is cleverly done. But outside of the weirder cosmic horror angle, as that descent continues towards further, albeit very good, effects and a somewhat overly-familiar final antagonist, the film gets a little bit less interesting than its incredibly strong first half.

Certainly The Void is a film I can heartily recommend to horror fans, particularly as a resurrection of the sort of gory body-horror, done superbly well, that’s been away from screens for a long time. But it’s just missing that something that would give it a classic status — as it stands, its simply a fun slide into darkness. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.