06 May 2017

It's been far too long since I sat down and watched a good scary movie. I'm not sure why I've been slacking in that department, and there's no excuse for my laziness. It's as if I've selfishly abandoned my beloved horror movie children. I guess I'm just a bad father. But in an effort both to make up for my parental absence and to cripple what remains of my sanity, I've decided to spend the summer of 2017 watching 117 particularly spooky movies that I have not yet seen. (And don't worry - I won't be bombarding the good folks here at Scared To Watch with one-hundred-seventeen needlessly long-winded movie reviews.) I kicked off that self-destructive marathon last night with a little film called The Void.

And it was a good start to my maddening marathon.

Those of us who've had fingers firmly on the pulse of the independent horror scene over the past few years have more than likely been impatiently anticipating the arrival of The Void - an original creature feature that made more alluring promises than a grinning politician at election season. In 2015, producer Casey Walker posted a teaser, photos, and information about the project on indiegogo.com. The film's description alone managed to turn the collective heads of the entire horror community by drawing comparisons to The Thing, The Blob, The Fly, H. R. Giger, and Masahiro Ito - bold claims, to say the least. It was clear from the get-go that these filmmakers were either in way over their heads or had actually developed something worth emptying our wallets on to bring to fruition.

Last month The Void finally came out of the, uh, abyss, and onto our screens, bringing with it one lingering question: did it live up to the hype?

Well, yeah. Yeah, it's safe to say it did.

The Void title card

The Void begins in the dead of night, in front of an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of the woods. It's a familiar setup we've come to welcome with open arms - so long as what follows doesn't disappoint. After an inviting and sufficiently paced introduction of our potential-antagonists and an ominous preface to the plot that's vague but just intriguing enough to hold our attention, we're presented with a gorgeous opening credits sequence. (Sidebar: What the hell ever happened to the good opening credits sequence, anyway? We never seem to see it in movies anymore.) If one thing has been said of The Void, it is that the film is, at its core, an '80s throwback - however, you're not likely to sense that vibe from its more modern opening sequence. Which is relieving, to be honest. While '80s horror throwbacks are just dandy, they are admittedly, as of late, overabundant to the point of near suffocation. But The Void approaches its 1980s legacy in a more subtle manner: there is no synth score, there are no 1980-something clothing and costume designs, and the movie never suggests that it might take place around the '80s. Instead, we are given a tone similar to that of John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy; a team of characters who are as engaging, idiosyncratic, and genuinely human as the leads in any good 1980s Joe Dante or John Landis picture; and, of course, the crème de la crème: a gallery of practical effects that would make Cronenberg blush. This is '80s throwback done right - the kind of package we should have but never received from movies like 2011's disappointing The Thing pre-make.

Horror filmmakers, take note: stop focusing on making sure your soundtrack is a carbon copy of the Stranger Things theme, and instead give us the '80s references we actually crave, in the form of a good old fashioned, well-done, practical effects monster that crawled from the pits of your own vast and creative cranium. We will love you all the more for it.

Which brings us to Void's monster. Or monsters, rather, because there's a whole damned lot of 'em. To wit: if I were to boil down the creature design(s) to the recipe for a delectable Fourth of July party entrée, it would be as follows: start with the whipping wiry tendons of Stan Winston and Rob Bottin's titular Thing slathered in a half-human-half-creature concoction made from Screaming Mad George's flesh-warping monstrosities as seen in Society, the Michael Rooker alien-slug from Slither, and a bone-chilling almost Cenobitesque hell-spawn straight from the mind of Clive Barker. Grill this disgusting aberration to a red medium rare while slow-roasting one dozen half-dead, limb-twitching, zombielike Hell dwellers that might've come from the collective imaginations of Barker, Cronenberg, and Masahiro Ito a la Silent Hill. Once done, store all of these meaty atrocities in a dark, massive oven not unlike Freddy Krueger's surreal reality-bending world until ready to serve to your Lovecraftian occult guests. Feel free to garnish with parsley.

In case it wasn't obvious, a) I know nothing about cooking, and b) the creatures and villains and chilling white-robed, black- triangle-faced cultists brimming in The Void are as aesthetically pleasing to lovers of the vile and heinous as they are satisfyingly daunting. Mad props to the whole gang responsible for this vivid array of baddies.

the void screencap1

Of course, no good horror flick is complete without its human cast. The short list of relative unknowns - namely the top-billed Aaron Poole; Kenneth Welsh; Daniel Fathers; Kathleen Munroe; and Knives Chau herself, Ellen Wong - grace the screen with impeccable charm, taking diverse and individual cues from a wide spectrum of personalities and motives and slowly deteriorating mental states as they find themselves trapped within the doomed confines of a creepy hospital. Many of the characters display the kind of compassion and humanity that inherently forces the viewer to grow an emotional attachment - an intrinsic element too many horror films tend to gloss over in favor of bland, throwaway characters you actively hope to see killed off. I can honestly say that, apart from the natural desire to see the cast of any horror movie get torn limb from limb, I didn't wish to see any of the enjoyable cast of characters die (barring the baddies... to an extent), despite the fact that imminent slaughter was always looming.

Void's protagonists provide an organic segue into the movie's plot, which is admittedly confusing at times. The story - which really is unique and enveloping - does tend to sort of go all over the place for a little while. It's around the second act that things get a bit confusing, almost as if a good chunk of the flick had been removed and torn asunder, never to be viewed by the general audience. But the plot manages to catch up with itself, and even boosts itself with adept cinematography, eerie hues and lighting and shadows, and a lack of the shaky-cam technique that's way too prevalent in modern cinema. And even though you may have to piece together some aspects of the story here and there via context clues, by the last forty minutes or so you'll more than likely find yourself back in pace with the whole shebang. Aside from that, my only minor gripe with the movie is a small part of the ending - for a brief moment during the epilogue, one of the flick's very few applications of CGI looks jarringly chintzy, with the two main protagonists standing against a not-so-great-looking, clearly green-screened backdrop. Granted, this is to be expected of an independent low-budget movie, and any schlock as a result of that two-second shot is almost immediately put to rest by the somewhat jaw-dropping reveal of an eerie and foreboding canyon with the kind of impossible, bizarre dreamscape we've only ever seen in our darkest, most sinister nightmares. (And before you flip shit about spoilers, bear in mind I am being super vague here and have intentionally avoided spilling any detail that could potentially ruin the movie for you. Trust me when I say that I haven't even begun to scrape the surface of Void's weird, tunneling plot.)

Maybe at this point in my tome of a review we should go back to that vital query posed at the very beginning: does The Void truly live up to its long-established hype? At the risk of being cliché, this is something you will have to decide for yourself. Your mileage may vary and other such platitudes. Either way, however, I'm almost 100% certain you will agree that this movie is scary. It is gruesome. It is beautiful and bloody and relentless. And above all, it is a satisfying slice of spooky cinema which proves that the independent horror scene is thriving amidst this horror movie boom with which we have recently been blessed. All of which, needless to say, bodes well for writers/directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie. When 2017 reaches its climax and its successor rears its ugly head, The Void just might be revered as the best horror movie of this year. At the very least, it's sure to be a top contender, and a tough one to trump.

Good luck to the ones that will follow.

 

THE VOID is currently available on VOD.

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Brad Grandrino

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