The 80s aesthetic is chic these days in genre films. Just take a look at Beyond the Black Rainbow, It Follows, or The Guest, among others. Homage and pastiche don’t guarantee quality, of course, but it’s an indicator that more and more children of the videsostore generation have grown up to make movies that reflect the things they watched when they were young.
The videostore fingerprints are all over The Void. A little bit of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and Assault on Precinct 13, a little bit of Hellraiser II and Stuart Gordon, and more than a touch of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. The cosmic horror runs high, and there’s a lot to admire about what The Void is able to accomplish on a limited budget and relying predominantly on practical effects.
Yet even though I liked The Void, I felt like the movie was missing a crucial spark of individuality–a sense of its own fingerprints.
Directors: Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie
Release Date: March 31, 2017 (UK); April 7, 2017 (US)
Daniel (Aaron Poole), a small town cop, finds a distraught man on an empty road in the middle of the night. This guy’s just fled from a mysterious home invasion and murder, but Daniel doesn’t know that. Daniel brings the man to the local hospital for treatment. A group of cultists surround the hospital, and strange, cosmic horror-y things begin to happen.
The characters are quickly hewn from familiar tropes: the protagonist’s estranged wife (Kathleen Munroe), a pregnant woman about to deliver (Grace Munro), a caring town doctor everyone respects (Kenneth Welsh), and two killers with uncertain motives who may or may not be good guys (Daniel Fathers and Mik Byskov). This group has to fend off the evil outside while strange powers turn people into tentacled, tumored, cyst-covered creatures that are a little bit H.P. Lovecraft and a lot of Rob Bottin. It’s a modest set up, but there’s a lot to do within that framework.
Writers/co-directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie know their way around genre conventions and the camera. As the film goes wild with creatures and slime, they do an admirable job of making their film feel like an artifact of the VHS era. Even though the characters are usually one-note, there’s a genuine sense of tension as they fight for their lives. In the first creature scene I think the effects are shown too obliquely and there’s too much flickering light, but Kostanski and Gillespie typically show their horrors in all of their wonderful, lymphy madness.
Yet as The Void unfolded, I felt like I was mostly noticing nods to other films rather than getting lost in The Void. When The Void revealed a plot twist, I thought about another movie; when a creature appeared on screen, I thought about another movie; even when The Void ended, I thought about another movie (two, actually). What I’m getting at: The Void is a great stroll through a videostore, but it doesn’t go that additional step beyond its influences to become its own thing. I think about cover bands that don’t quite twist the original enough, or maybe a tribute band–songs in the style of a downbeat Lucio Fulci zombie movie as done by John Carpenter.
It’s not like Kostanski and Gillespie lacked their own material. The mythology of their cosmic horror is promising. Sadly, it’s left vague–a pretext for plot rather than something fully realized–and they never allow their own mythology’s eldritch contours to wrest control from their genre forebears. There was so much unexplored territory they could have covered, but they stuck to the well-worn paths that others had made before them. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed even though I liked what I saw. Experiences like this that make me appreciate the originality of those seminal 80s horror and sci-fi films. It’s easy and enjoyable to recreate moods and pay homage to scenes, but much harder to go that extra step and create something genre-defining.
That said, I want to see what Kostanski and Gillespie do next. There’s promise in The Void, and maybe if I were younger or hadn’t grown up watching the same movies the filmmakers did, I would find the movie more satisfying. I just hope in their next movie Kostanski and Gillespie get away from the videostore and put more of themselves and their original ideas front and center.