Ahhh Easter; a great family weekend-holiday in which family and community take center stage to celebrate love and the coming of Spring. Easter is a special time in which we are reminded of the new life that Spring brings with it and – for the religious – the new life given to Jesus Christ. What better day to put out my review for Jeremy Gillespie’s and Steven Kostanski’s new(ish) body-horror flick The Void than on this beautiful springtime holiday?
The Void was a hit at several sci-fi and horror film festivals throughout 2016. It just recently recieved a small nation-wide release. Gillespie and Kostanski were heavily influenced by the independent horror films of the late 70’s and early 80’s that often made themselves infamous for their use of grotesque special effects; namely, those films in which David Cronenberg (The Thing, Scanners, The Fly) left his unmistakable mark. Cronenberg’s vision for his earlier films pioneered a new genre of horror: the body-horror movie. These films distinguish themselves from other horror movies through their use of practical effects that take the human body and transform it into something unfamiliar; yet, no matter how unfamiliar the final product is, it still retains an heir of familiarity that increases the uncanny feeling it produces. Body-horror films seek to do one thing in particular: to make you uncomfortable in your own skin. The Void is a throwback to this genre’s heyday, so how does it compare?
It needs to be said, so I’ll say it before going any further: this film does not care about its story. However, that does not mean it will receive grace from me.
The movie opens with a great scene that is sure to get audiences immediately interested in the film. Unfortunately, it follows up this scene by introducing some of the most uninteresting characters in horror. And that’s saying something, because I’ve seen some bad horror movies. The main character is a small-town sheriff that doesn’t really seem to care about his job. He falls asleep while on duty, obsesses over his (ex?) wife, and definitely does not possess the capacity to do his job to the extent that is required of him. His (ex?) wife is one of two nurses at the local hospital and seems to be the only useful one. The other is too panicky and the intern would rather flirt with patients than do any real work.
None of the characters are particularly interesting, and the story itself is too incomprehensible to be interesting too. Here’s a quick rundown:
[Warning: Spoilers] The sheriff picks up a guy he think is drunk and takes him to the hospital. Once he’s there, the not-drunk freaks out as he suddenly becomes conscious of his surroundings and demands that he be let go. The useless nurse then goes crazy for some reason and kills a patient. She is then killed when she comes after the sheriff with a scalpel. After this, the hospital is surrounded by cult members that dress as illuminati-KKK hybrids and refuse to let anyone leave the premises. The dead nurse turns into a monster that resembles Richard Sherman after skinny dipping in an overly polluted and stagnant swamp. The monster kills a state trooper before two guys randomly burst into the hospital and hack the thing to bits with a couple of fire axes. Later, we learn that the only doctor in the building seems to actually be the leader of this cult. The sheriff’s wife goes missing and they encounter all kinds of ridiculous surgically altered demons in the hospital’s secret basement. Turns out that Doc has been obsessed with gaining immortality and bringing back his dead daughter, and has enlisted the help of beings from another dimension to help him bring this “gift” to all of humanity. Unfortunately for us, the side effects of Immortality (trademarked) are grotesque bodily alterations, cravings for human flesh, imperviousness to bullets, weakness to chopping tools, and a desire to end your own life as well as others’. [End Spoilers]
I don’t think that anyone in this film was a particularly bad actor, but many of them were definitely miss-cast. Aaron Poole should not have been cast as a sheriff, and Kenneth Welsh’s voice is too sinister for me to believe he’s just a normal doctor. The sub-par script also aids in making most of the performances mediocre at best.
Here we go, the part that actually matters to Gillespie and Kostanski’s vision. Everything in this film is done using all kinds of practical effects. Makeup, costumes, prosthetics, animatronics, props, giant puppets; you name it, it’s in this film. The only thing that does not make an appearance is CGI. The only scene that uses CGI is the very last scene, in which a green screen is used to create the landscape and background of the scene. The practical effects used in this film remind us of what kinds of things horror films are capable of when they are willing to spend the time physically creating them. Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Scott’s Alien (1979) are two films I always point to when making the argument that practical effects will always make a bigger impact on audiences than a computer-generated creature or person. This film is no exception; the creatures that appear in this film go above and beyond anything I’ve seen in another body-horror film.
I took off a few points for the directional style, as it is mostly conventional. However, there are a multitude of shots that purposefully hide things from you. This was used to build suspense, but if we’re being honest, the suspense is not the thing that is going to keep people watching the film. The reason people can’t peel themselves away from these types of movies is because they want to see the disturbing distortions. Hiding the creatures from the frame did more to frustrate me than build suspense. It also makes the film seem cheaper than it actually is. We know how much work you put into these creature designs, now make a show of your work, don’t hide it away from us like an embarrassed kid presenting their science project.
X-Factor: 7/10; it did its job, I would rather not see this movie again
As a stand-alone movie, this film sadly fits into all the other mediocre crap that comes out of the horror genre these days. Hopefully though, we will start to see more filmmakers implementing practical effects rather than settling for lazy CG in their horror movies. James Wan is an excellent example of a director who understands how audiences are affected by the physical presence of an actor or prop in horror films, but he also understands the importance of story and character. I understand that The Void isn’t even close to the caliber of production that a Wan film is, but it just doesn’t help to have a less-than mediocre story. Ultimately, if you can appreciate a movie simply for the work put into the special effects like costume and makeup, then this is one I would highly recommend. Otherwise, this is one you can certainly skip and will probably regret watching. If you’re one of the latter, I would recommend bringing a bucket if you decide to watch this for some reason.