The Void (2017) by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
Review by Jordan Collier
As a rule of thumb lately, I've tried to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) hype when it comes to movies with the philosophy that I will enter totally fresh with maybe just a synopsis in my head and if the movie is great, then the hype will happen during the movie rather than before it.
But oh man was I caught hook, line, and sinker whenever I stumbled across The Void's existence about 2 months back. Thanks to its incredible promotional materials, the hype gates swung open and I was giddy with excitement, anxiously awaiting its release.
The Void is another horror film marketed as a throwback to the horror golden age of the 80s, when the genre wasn't afraid to be absolutely off-the-wall batshit crazy whether in idea or execution. The film wears (read: plasters) its influences on its sleeves with its Carpenter-esque vibe and enough body horror to make David Cronenberg squeal in delight.
And WOAH are those special effects something. The film is directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie who are notably two SPFX veterans themselves. The practical effects on display here are masterworks. There is hardly any CG to be had throughout, and this makes every threat feel that much more tangible, nasty, goopy, gory, and flat out gross. The movie is a creature feature before it is anything else, and the fact that the crew made these walking nightmares so realized with such a small budget (the film was funded through Kickstarter) is a testament to the prowess of the crew.
Helping all that craziness along is wonderful cinematography, particularly framing and use of color. Editing is tight and visceral and when things start to go wild, you can really feel it. The sound design is hectic and seriously creepy throughout and the whole film is propelled by a serviceable soundtrack that unfortunately doesn’t stick with you as much as the scores from the sources that it is a throwback to.
However, the real reason The Void had me so interested was its dip into Lovecraftian themes and imagery. Lovecraft is notoriously hard to put on the screen. Some films have had some success, notably several Carpenter vehicles, and Guillermo del Toro has been championing an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness for years, but the material doesn't really lend itself to being seen. Lovecraftian horror is all about unperceivable, unimaginable threats that put into question humanity’s importance in the grand scheme of things usually in the form of ancient cosmic gods that are so beyond human perception that it reflects that insignificance back to us. Even though the monstrosities on display here certainly are terrifying, the simple act of seeing them dilutes that cosmic mystery.
Furthermore, The Void uses the Lovecraft starter pack to varying results. There is a weird cult that is aware of these cosmic beings and wants to bring them here, there are people making an effort to quite literally shed their humanity, and there are grand, menacing shots of the cosmos. However, while all the pieces are there on the surface, it never delves any deeper into the themes that it supposedly pulls from.
The fact that the screenplay isn’t very strong only seems to exacerbate these problems. The characters don’t have a lot to work with and any attempt to give them characterization is almost entirely related through past events each and every time. These flashes of characterization are only briefly glimpsed and hardly ever connect, making it feel like wasted screen time. There are almost no instances where the characters are allowed to grow in the present and thus, there are no real character arcs at all. The whole thing, especially towards the end, plays out like a video game, complete with a final boss.
Despite all these problems, I don’t hate The Void. Far from it. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun and is a wonderful exercise in genre cinema. It’s not going to be remembered for its characters or its plot, but I have a hard time believing it ever would have been. The creatures are the stars and they easily steal the show. And do I need to mention how great it is to see a modern horror movie that has zero jump scares, no doors opening and closing by themselves, and hardly any CG whatsoever? Like John Wick before it, it really is something special to see a film made by two masters of their respective crafts and I hope it is a trend we see continued.