When Astron-6 collaborators Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski announced their intent to create a serious monster movie outside of the brand, fans were eager to see the duo flex creative muscles in a realm they had yet to conquer. Those familiar with the collective’s satirical approach in cheeky satires like Manborg (2011) and Father’s Day (2011), or the exuberant short Bio-Cop (2012), were prepared for a departure that promised genuine visceral scares and an assortment of creatures fashioned with practical effects. When ominous images of triangular symbols emerged on social media, tempering expectations became unavoidable. With the heavyweight of expectation upon them, would the risk pay off in their ambitious effort The Void? The answer is a resounding: hell yes!
The Void is a siege film modeled after the best work of John Carpenter, particularly The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987), where paranoia factors largely into a story dropping its protagonists into a living hell fraught with revolting cosmic beings and mutated corpses. The premise strands a group of rescue workers, hospital personnel, and patients in a patently stressful environment at an understaffed facility in the dead of night where officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) delivers an accident victim found bloody and staggering out of the woods. Tension mounts when a pair of men brandishing weapons arrive determined to finish off the wounded man. Meanwhile, Daniel must manage personal emotional baggage stemming from obligation to his family name and cooperating with his estranged wife who works the graveyard shift. The hospital is surrounded by a group of bizarre shrouded cult-like figures who trap the unraveling survivors inside in an environment that serves as a gateway entry for otherworldly forces bent on apocalyptic destruction.
Though set in contemporary North America, The Void harkens to the heyday of ambitious effects-driven films from the 1980s like From Beyond (1986) and Hellraiser (1987) without resorting to precious period mimicry. Horror fans with a keen eye will recognize visual nods to Event Horizon (1997) and L’aldilà (The Beyond, 1981), but Gillespie and Kostanski aren’t interested in assembling a patchwork of pastiche; the framework of The Void is imbued with a gravitas that drives the story into much darker territory than we’ve received from the filmmakers thus far in their careers. Trauma associated with pregnancy is a theme running through the film and scenes involving birth confront the viewer with movie’s most disturbing imagery. Creepy triangles, too, offer a sense of foreboding that accentuates the brooding tone.
Gillespie and Kostanski share directing responsibilities admirably well, resulting in a cohesive effort that balances the dramatic elements with the visceral thrills where they clearly thrive. In that regard, the stakes feel higher in The Void than many current horror offerings that slip tongue-into-cheek and lack a purposeful foundation from which to cultivate scares. It’s Gillespie’s and Kostanski’s sincerity that lifts the film over its competition and keeps it feeling fresh and genuinely scary replete with a cavalcade of unobscured monsters thrust right into the viewer’s face. The acting is solid across the board, the performances doubtlessly enhanced by interaction with physical monstrosities and not play-acting in front of a green screen.
Though the location setting is confined and minimal, The Void manages to feel like a much larger production than allowed by the meager resources available to its talented team of engineers. The makeup and visual effects teams perform commendable feats and tentacled invaders with dripping and gnashing jaws appear ready to jump off the screen. The impeccable craftsmanship on display is at once a loving tribute to its forbears, and its own formulation entirely. Though references are evident, it’s not familiar images being aped so much as the dire feeling conjured by its predecessors – an oddly comforting experience for aficionados raised on a steady diet of 80s horror tired of countless “tributes” designed to ridicule. In this regard, we can avoid statements using derogatory terms like “rip-off” and instead describe the film as a true throwback that operates effectively in its own unique universe.
The Void ends on a breathtaking downbeat note that hearkens to the dread-provoking experience of Carpenter’s “apocalypse trio” (The Thing; Prince of Darkness; In the Mouth of Madness, 1994) or Lucio Fulci’s tremendously bleak climax in The Beyond. It renders the characters, despite their efforts to survive, insignificant under the immense weight of cosmic terror, placing them face-to-face with a presence beyond comprehension. The Void never falters in its creators’ commitment to delivering urgent, in-the-moment thrills and surreal grotesquerie, and is hell-bent on plunging the viewer straight into the abyss.
The Void releases in theaters and iTunes on April 7.