Practical effects hold a very special place in my heart. Among my first horror movie experiences were John Carpenter’s The Thing, the 80’s remake of The Fly (mmmm, Jeff Goldblum), and The Evil Dead, and their outstanding effects work have eaten their way into my brain and have never left. I’m a firm believer that when practical and make-up effects are done right, they surpass anything you can do with a computer and a green screen.
The Void is a Canadian (woo!) body horror/ cosmic horror/ throwback horror flick from Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, who are responsible for the purposefully-bad movies Manborg and Father’s Day. They know their way around ’80s schlock and are adept at creating throwbacks and homages to the movies and scenes they love.
This movie takes place in an unnamed small rural town, where local cop Daniel comes across a bloody man stumbling through the country roads while on patrol. After bringing him to the local, semi-defunct hospital, Daniel’s problems start multiplying like deranged rabbits. A pregnant teenager coming to the end of her term in the waiting room. Two manic men brandishing guns storm into the hospital looking to kill the man Daniel just brought in, spewing nonsense about monsters and occult magic. Multiple hooded figures, possibly cultists, begin surrounding the hospital en masse, clearly waiting for something. Pretty soon, one of the hospital’s nurses begins acting completely deranged, killing a bedridden patient and then clipping her skin face off before erupting into the bubbling bulbous monstrosity of flesh, appendages, and orifices.
And then things get bad.
The Void is a film that took the horror world by storm when it’s amazing trailer and tantalizing posters were released into the world. This was an independent horror movie free from big studio producer interference, with almost exclusively practical effects driven body horror and creatures. Sure, as soon as it was announced, everybody and their mothers pinned this as another ’80s throwback horror film which seems to be all the rage these days, but The Void didn’t even try to hide it. There was no masquerade of “nodding to its influences but standing as it’s own piece of art in horror film history“. Nope. This was going to be a film that wore all of its influences on its sleeve, and proudly. They weren’t trying to break new ground, here. But what I hope they end up doing, as the film continues to garner fans from all over the world, is drive a change in modern horror cinema to include more practical effects driven movies. Ones that have big studio budgets that can allow the film to be the best version of itself it can be, but are respected by the studio and allowed to get a little weird. If you’re going to make a Lovecraftian practical effect heavy movie, you better be ready to strap in for a wild ride.
And The Void is no different.
Now, when I
say write Lovecraftian, I’m talking more about the modern definition of the word. Old school Lovecraftian dealt with more cosmic horror and the insignificance of humanity in the cold vastness of the cosmos. It tackled themes of madness and existential crisis, of humans being exposed to knowledge and things beyond their basic senses and perceptions and rending their minds to shreds in the process. New school Lovecraftian is more about the monsters and their design, borrowing heavily from the “indescribable horrors” mentioned in Lovecraft’s writing. Over time his style of creature, which translates far better to the written word than to a visual medium like film, has taken on certain visual trademarks. As I wrote earlier: bubbling bulbous monstrosity of flesh, appendages, and orifices. Often times, films that use monsters like these obscure them with dark or drastic lighting, smoke, or obstacles so that much of the physical monster is left up to the audience’s imagination.
Having real life monstrosities in the same room as the actors is infinitely better than than using a guy in a mo-cap suit or worse yet, just using a tennis ball on a stick to guide eyelines, as it actually gives the actors something something real to act and react off of. However, I think the direction and acting falls flat in conveying the mental and emotional trauma that would presumably set in after confronting the extradimensional horrors in this flick. Whenever shit hits the fan, there’s a pretty appropriate initial reaction, but everybody pretty quickly settles into a pretty blasé attitude towards whatever fucked up thing comes across them next.
The effects team for The Void totally knocked it out of the park here. From the very first creature all the way down to the horrifying sub-basement scene (and you thought regular basements were scary), never once was my immersion broken from the film because something looked fake or like it didn’t quite belong. They ran the whole gambit of ways to make sure that once the creatures came a-running, you were never quite sure what you were looking at. You could never tell where they start and where they end, which sides are the top and bottom, or which way they’re facing. Even the gore effects were solid, with only a handful of really explicit scenes cropping up. I think hey knew they didn’t have the budget to blow on awesome blood and guts for the cast on top of all the creatures, so they kept it to a couple big scenes. I think The Void has one of the best on screen decapitation-by-axe deaths moments I’ve seen, possibly ever.
The budget did come into play for a lot of the rest of the movie, however. The Void feels like a low budget horror flick, with some jarring edits used to cover up some shots that probably weren’t possible with the prosthetics and animatronics they had available. Much of the film is pretty dark and while it could have been worse, it didn’t feel like a movie set in a dark location, it just felt like they didn’t have enough light to properly light everything the way they wanted to. They weren’t in complete control of the environment, and it shows sometimes. Even when they had complete control of the situation, i.e. a greenscreen, you could tell they had to sacrifice the quality of their chromakeying in order to appease their budget. Luckily for us, there’s only one obvious green screened shot in the whole film, so really, I can’t complain too much here.
The rest of the film is nothing to scoff at, but compared to the quality and level of dedication and passion that went in to the monster design and practical effects, it doesn’t feel like anything special. Some people might say that there are a lot of clichés tucked away into its hour and a half and that’s because The Void borrows imagery from it’s predecessors many, many, many times. Key word being imagery, not scenes, or plots. Nothing is directly copied from any other property, but knowing your ’80s and ’90s low budget horror films really offers a whole other level of fun that you get out of The Void. John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness), Event Horizon, Hellraiser (cough shameless plug cough) and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond all offer direct inspiration for The Void in one way or another. Sometimes the design of a creature is reminiscent of the body horror in ’80s John Carpenter flicks, or seeing a portal on screen or the sub-basement scene gives you flashbacks to the infamous Hell sequence in Event Horizon. Again, there’s no theft going on here. The guys who made The Void clearly love old school horror, and wear their influences proudly on their sleeve.
This is more than just a throwback movie, though. While referencing the movies that influenced the filmmakers is a big part of The Void, this film very clearly claims its stake as being one that will influence those after it. Much like The Thing helped throw practical monster effects into the spotlight in the ’80s, I think The Void is going to bring horror movies around to a new golden age of practical effects. Kind of how Gravity ushered in a new wave of hard-science space thrillers over the last few years, I think The Void will provide concrete proof to studios (even if they’re smaller studios like Blumhouse) that horror fans want practical effects back in their body horror flicks and creature features. We’ve gone so long since having a John Carpenter or David Cronenberg throwing grade A splatter across the silver screen, that I sincerely hope that The Void fills a hole in every modern horror fan’s heart.
The only major change I would make to The Void is to the ending, and while the ending wasn’t bad or unsatisfying, I don’t think it’s the best it could have been. Naturally, spoilers.
I think The Void had an almost perfect set up for the ending, with the unnamed son (Mik Byskov) surviving the horrors inside the hospital. The problem comes with Kim (Ellen Wong) also surviving. Having the son be the only survivor would make the ending much bleaker, having a character who can’t speak be the only survivor. The communication barrier between the son and the rest of the world would leave him unable to efficiently share his experiences with anyone else. Sure, he could write, but just the thematic element of the only survivor being unable to share, vent, and exorcise the terrible memories he’s formed is very Lovecraftian in an old-school sense of the word.
The ending is the only real major change I would make to the film. The Void is an bloody and spooky good time with practical effects to die for (heh). I seriously can’t drive home how much I love the monsters in The Void. Pretty much everything else around the effects is good or good enough. The script isn’t bad, but it’s exactly as fleshed out as it needs to be, not a line longer. The acting is fine, and the direction is solid. Considered as a well rounded movie, The Void isn’t anything special, but if you’re a fan of ’80s and ’90s practical effect driven horror, this movie will easily be one of your favorites of the last five years.