With backgrounds in craft, it is hardly surprising that art director Jeremy Gillespie, and practical effects artist Steven Kostanski’s directorial debut The Void benefits from some seriously striking imagery. This squishy-squelchy 80s throwback is a peculiar blend of body horror, and creature-feature filmmaking, poured into a fizzing cauldron, rich with cosmic science-fiction, and situational thrills. Unsurprisingly, such a mix serves up a rather awkward broth, but this squirming oddity is bound to please gorehounds and schlock enthusiasts alike.
No-nonsense police officer Carter (Aaron Poole) is lazing on-duty, when he spots a claret-sodden man struggling to claw his way down a deserted track. He rushes the stranger to a local hospital – one which is recently recovering from a major fire and is prepping to relocate. Armed with only a handful of staff, including junior doctor, Kim (Ellen Wong), the night begins to go from bad to bizarre as a parade of cloaked figures ascend, surrounding the building. The presence of these cult-like personas causes the patients and employees inside to turn ravenously insane, bringing on a rollercoaster ride of shocks and spills, as Carter desperately attempts to uncover the bloody mystery.
Straight of the bat, The Void proves it plans to take no prisoners. It opens with an alarming sequence, perhaps the nastiest moment in a movie simply caked with grotesque developments. Canadian duo Gillespie and Kostanski – who also serve as first-time writers – establish a brooding, menacing tone within seconds, and for the most part, maintain it across the supple ninety-minute duration. Problems arise with more central elements of their screenplay; namely character. Besides Carter, who is enigmatic enough to surpass the sub-standard horror hero cliché, the wider assortment of supporting roles are weak to say the least. Very little is done to establish any real emotional attachment, and often the actors are forced to gargle on-the-nose expository dialogue. For a film so desperately trying to be both ambitious and ambiguous, clunky writing ensures neither is fully successful.
More issues come due to the unrelenting influence of past works. It is extremely evident that both Gillespie and Kostanski are genre fans, and are undoubtedly knowledgeable, too. There are lashings of Clive Barker here, Lucio Fulci, and George A. Romero, as well. But the principal homages throughout are indebted to John Carpenter, and David Cronenberg. More often than not, The Void feels like it is trying to render a modernised version of Prince of Darkness, with feverish splashes of Rabid, and The Fly worked in for good measure. Their respects are admirable, if largely forced, and using these as such a consistent anchor for support taints any lasting sense of individualism.
However, for a film which is entirely rendered in doom and gloom, it isn’t all as such for the spectator. There is plenty to enjoy aesthetically throughout, particularly the fantastic usages of visual effects, and practical creature design, which betters a large percentage of the make-up and additional work the duo have provided before (they were principal members of the Suicide Squad crew…). There are several sequences throughout which ooze with macabre malice, as icky guts, gloop, pus, and everything in-between slops on-screen in shamelessly rancid fashion. Scalpels are inserted in eyeballs, writhing tentacles wrap around exposed body parts, faces are slammed onto iron bars, and skin is both surgically removed, and ruthlessly ripped open. The Void takes immense pleasure in all the sickening gratuity, and as a consequence, we enjoy a deliciously gory voyage.
Elsewhere, the film’s cerebral edge lends kindly to some mind-boggling cutaways, thick with foreboding energy, and demented paranoia. The usage of triangles is a core subtextual theme throughout, and the many psychedelic trips we take as we plunge into the recesses of Carter’s brain are twisted reflections of the shape, its meaning, and its validity to the mob of gowned invaders who ensure all stay firmly within the hospital wards.
Whilst The Void fails to reach the heights of its recent independent rivals, namely the sensationally twisted The Eyes of My Mother – released only last week – it is still a technically assured festival of slop and splatter which uses depravity as its key advantage. Well worth seeking out.
The Void opens in select UK cinemas on 31st March.