REVIEW: The Void (2016)

Police deputy Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) finds a young man covered in blood on the side of the road. He takes him to the nearest rural hospital, which is immediately surrounded by masked cultists. Breaking through the cult is a father and son bearing weapons and murderous intent. Meanwhile in the bowels of the hospital something unknown and inhuman is taking effect.

The Void is an independent Canadian horror film written and directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie. It is a deliberately referential work, taking inspiration for a number of different sources but primarily author H.P. Lovecraft and film directors John Carpenter and Clive Barker. It is produced on a low budget, and I think that has to be kept in mind when viewing it. Considered in context, it is an impressive and brilliantly atmospheric work of horror cinema.

Nothing in this film is handed to the viewer on a plate. Motivations are not initially clear, back stories take a while to filter out, and the ultimate evil of the piece is – as befits a Lovecraft-inspired screenplay – almost entirely inexplicable. That can make it a little frustrating from time to time, but I think it is largely a good frustration. Fear of the unknown is probably the most palpable of all horror themes, and The Void exploits that to tremendous effect. Terrible things are happening, and we do not know why; that is part of why they feel so terrible.

Aaron Poole is a strong, dependable lead, and his character works very much as the dependable ‘everyperson’ upon which the audience can attach themselves. Also strong is Kathleen Monroe as Allison Fraser, Deputy Carter’s estranged wife, and Ellen Wong as Kim – a disaffected young intern who falls to pieces under pressure.

Visually the film is great, particularly in a series of hallucinatory montages that suggest a much larger and more overwhelming threat to the characters than anything stalking them inside the hospital. The film relies heavily on practical effects, including some very effective creatures that feel something out of John Carpenter’s The Thing. There is a surprising amount of blood and gore, and it is all shot in such a manner that it rarely feels too garish or silly.

The film runs at a brisk pace through just 90 minutes, and never runs the risk of losing momentum or suspense. The atmosphere is everything: this tonally feels consistent, atmospheric and deeply unsettling, particularly once three of the trapped characters elect to go searching through the hospital burned-out basement level. Ultimately it is a pastiche – it is doubtful that there are many genuinely fresh ideas to be seen here – but it is an effective one, and a real treat for horror enthusiasts. As directors Kostanski and Gillespie are definitely two people to keep an eye on; as they expand their repertoire from remixing other people’s work into developing their own, I suspect they are going to be talents well worth following.

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