It can be tricky when you’re late to the party. Feverishly hyped in horror circles since its announcement, and one of the most talked-about films at the horror festivals in 2016, The Void has been on my radar for a good length of time, and all the signs indicated that it was something very much up my street. Publicity emphasised heavy use of old-fashioned practical SFX in favour of CGI, and a vision of otherworldly terror that drew heavily on HP Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Lucio Fulci, but at the same time reached out to do something new. Naturally, I went in with very high hopes… so when I say now that The Void is, well, just alright, it feels like a devastating blow. It really shouldn’t be at all, as this is not in any way, shape or form a bad film; it’s just nowhere near as great as I’d been hoping it would be, with far fewer surprises in store.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone in with such expectations, given that I seem to be among the few to have not been overly taken with Father’s Day and Manborg, the earlier films from the Astron-6 team of Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie and co. Still, The Void is not credited as an Astron-6 movie, and marks a step in a more dramatic direction for the filmmakers, so this was enough to warrant curiosity. However, whilst a great deal of mystery was suggested by the early images of faceless hooded figures marked with triangles, and hints of Lovecraftian tentacles bursting forth, in truth The Void is actually pretty easy to sum up, framed around a basic plot set-up we’ve seen innumerable times before.
In a nutshell, it’s Assault on Precinct 13 meets Event Horizon, with a soupcon of The Thing thrown into the mix. Rather than an LA police station in the process of closing down, our setting here is a backwoods hospital running on minimal staff as it’s in the middle of nowhere and no one expects anything to happen. Big mistake, obviously, as the local Sheriff Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) brings in a wounded stranger he found on a largely deserted country road in the dead of night, forcing an uncomfortable tête-à-tête with his estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe), the chief doctor in the graveyard shift. Of course, if things are tense to begin with, that’s nothing compared to how they get when the gun-toting Mitchell (Daniel Feathers) bursts in with intent to kill the mysterious stranger; and then there’s the small matter of a mob of white-robed figures suddenly appearing outside the hospital, making it clear they mean to kill anyone who tries to get out. And then things inside the hospital only get weirder, with certain human bodies doing things they’re really not supposed to do.
Once again, if I can get past the fact that I was expecting a little more, I may concede that there really isn’t anything ostensibly wrong with this set-up. The Void was clearly always intended to evoke the spirit of many of the best-loved horror movies of the 1980s, and there’s no denying it achieves this, happily without an excess of camp retroisms (although, as with the likes of Stranger Things and It Follows, I think we’ve reached a point where retro homages have outgrown the affectations of Grindhouse; and that seems natural enough, given the Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration was now a full decade ago). Of course, one of the key movies I mentioned earlier was not a product of the 1980s, and that’s Event Horizon, the 1997 sci-fi horror made by Paul Anderson before he added the W.S (and almost certainly his best film to this day, not that this is saying too much). The thing is, whilst the cosmic/demonic threat facing our ensemble is often slimy, tentacled and misshapen with nasty big pointy teeth, it also has a bit of a tendency to feed on the deepest innermost anxieties of its prey, forcing them to relive traumatic moments from their past, much as happened to Anderson’s unfortunate astronauts. I suppose this may in theory result in rich character-based drama which should up the stakes, but to my mind these sequences are far less interesting than the gruesome and surreal practical make-up horror which the whole endeavour was largely sold on.
Don’t get me wrong; I realise it’s weak to suggest a film is flawed simply because it isn’t what I wanted it to be, but I really do feel The Void had the potential to be so much more than it wound up being. In any case, I’m certainly not about to claim it doesn’t have its strengths. The performances are strong across the board, it’s tense and atmospheric in places, and the whole thing looks and sounds great, boasting a number of very striking and memorable images, particularly in the more tripping balls cosmic sequences. It’s just a shame that the human element of the film, to which the bulk of the running time is given, feels more than a little pedestrian by comparison.
The Void is released to US theatres and VOD on April 7th from Screen Media Films, whilst it comes to UK Blu-ray on 24th April from Signature Entertainment.