The Void Review
HP Lovecraft is probably the most influential modern horror writer imaginable. His brand of unknowable cosmic horror has appeared in the works of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Mike Mignola and many, many more. However due to the nature of his indescribable terrors film adaptations of his work, or at least that of his Cthulu Mythos, have not been successful, as once you show something that is unimaginable that particular Lovecraft magic is lost. That is not to say people haven't tried to incorporate Lovecraftian elements into their films, Guilermo del Toro is perhaps the most famous Lovecraft fan, John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy and The Alien franchise/HR Geiger nightmares have echoes of Lovecraftian themes. The Void, a low budget, crowdfunded Canadian film, attempts to pull off that same unnerving sense that we don't know anything about the universe we are a small part of. The question then becomes, does this film drive you to the point of madness because it is genuinely scary or because it is plain bad?
Small town Deputy Sheriff Daniel Carter, stumbles across a collapsed figure. Taking him to the local hospital, which is in the process of being abandoned due to budgetary and safety issues, Carter finds that he has stumbled onto more than a drug addict. As cultists surround the buildings, strange things begin to happen that can't be fully explained.
So, as already mentioned, this film has Lovecraftian elements in it. Thankfully it doesn't have his over-reliance on certain words and dense as-all-hell prose, and it has what has made Lovecraft the most inspirational writer of the modern era, loads of crazy cults, body horror and unknowable entities either from another dimension, or outer space; a triangle in the wall or all three.
What helps is that the story is well thought out in its incompleteness. While some horror films suffer greatly from their lack of explanation it works with a Lovecraftian story as the protagonist can never be in possession of all the pieces lest he goes mad. Yes, there are a couple of missteps here and there, including an ending shot that feels out of place, but these are minor gripes with a film that is absolutely chock full of atmosphere.
Despite a few problems in the story, and a couple of strange editing choices, the cinematography and production design, not to mention the creature effects make-up for those stumbles in spades. The film is shot and coloured in a similar fashion to the Netflix show Stranger Things, with a ton of fluorescent light, mist and slight camera movement. The montages of the sea, space and other things are shot tremendously well, like the slow-motion scenes from Melancholia. Essentially, this film is all tone and atmosphere, heightened by a look and a soundtrack straight out of the 80s.
The main attraction of this film, hands down, is the creature effects; this is where The Void's influences can be seen more plainly, with elements of John Carpenter's The Thing, Clive Barker's Hellraiser and David Cronenberg's specific brand of body horror. The low budget is well hidden thanks to some great shoot arounds, like the use of darkness. However, the awareness that these creatures are just men in latex suits does become very apparent the longer the camera lingers on the monster, and it is clear this movie suffers from that common horror catch-22: it is always scarier not to show your monster, but you need to see your monster because if you don't, you cheat your audience. Despite this though, you can appreciate the work of the props and make-up people, as well as some of the performers, especially that one with the double joints, Jesus Christ.
However, a movie can have the best atmosphere and great creature effects but it's all for nothing if the film doesn't have characters that you care about. Aaron Poole brings the intensity as Daniel Carter, the local sheriff deputy who gets in over his head. Ellen Wong, from Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, has perhaps the best role as a trainee doctor who does not want to be there, for so many different reasons depending on where you are in the film's run time. She has a balance between sass and likability that never made me want her to die, and, in fact, was perhaps one of my favourite characters in the film. I should also mention veteran actor Kenneth Welsh, better known as Windom Earle from Twin Peaks, who seems to be having a whale of a time as Dr Richard Powell. Actually, all the cast seem to be having fun in this film, which then passes onto the audience. All in all a great cast of characters, though the material that they have been given to work with is a little thin.
The Void isn't going to blow anyone away narratively, or character-wise, but that wasn't why the movie was made. The Void is a love letter to the 80s; it has a fantastic atmosphere, a great concept and characters that are believable and relatable. I always like Lovecraftian horror and it is a shame that it is so hard to get on film, but The Void does it so well and because it combines that with the 80s horror, that is all the rage these days, I cannot recommend it enough.
The DVD copy that I was supplied with by the good people at Signature, has no issues that I could see. The image is crisp and clear, and there are no digital, visual or audio glitches that were noticeable, though to be honest if there was a glitch I would have probably thought it was just another part of this strange experience.
The menus are also easily navigable, which is what you want when you have just watched a film that takes all of the mind-bending horrors of HP Lovecraft and mashes it into the meat grinder of 80s creature features (I mean that in a good way, of course).
To satisfy those who, like me, have a fascination in seeing how the sausage of a film is made, the DVD comes with some very nifty features. The Blu-ray comes with more extras of course, but more space on the disc means more meaty goodness.
The DVD includes a director's commentary that is very entertaining. Not only are the directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie very entertaining, but they are, understandably, very knowledgeable about the production of the film. Also, they seem aware of their position as semi-amateur (they have made films previously, and Steven Kostanski is a special effects make-up specialist) filmmakers and as such use their position to help teach those looking to find an in into horror/fantasy/sci-fi filmmaking.
Along those lines, the DVD's other main extra is a 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that details the entirety of production, from conception, proof of concept trailer, to the making of the feature. A whole load of entertaining crew and cast members shed light on all different aspects of the making of.
Finally the DVD also has the proof-of-concept trailer; it is very interesting to see how the realities of production affected the hopes and dreams of filmmakers.
I am going to say that I cannot recommend this film enough, in fact that is all I have been doing to my friends ever since I watched it. If you like 80s horror, practical special effects, HP Lovecraft, independent film, or just film in general, you need to see The Void and the extras on the discs make it well worth the investment to bring this twisted tale home with you, though be sure to check your windows in case you find hooded cultists surrounding your house.