We might have Ti West to blame for this massive resurgence in 80’s injected horror films. When his demonic throwback gem, The House of the Devil [’09], came creeping out of the devils womb in 2009, audiences were treated to a satanic morsel they weren’t even sure they were hungry for. Hitting every note on the Walkman, Ti West’s debut feature gave horror fans a reason to revisit one of the grandest and gravest decades in the genres sordid history. Brandishing a look that mirrors The Amityville Horror [’79] with the feel of Dario Argento’s ambiguous terror, West helped introduce many to the contenders of early 80’s satanic cinema, which is precisely where our film steps in.
The Void first began making waves as a circuit gem, premiering at Fantastic Fest and later expanding through a limited release after it ensnared audiences even further at Toronto’s After Dark Film Festival. And what better of a festival to garner accolades than a city that regularly highlights its very own Canadian darlings, with Lowell Dean’s Wolfcop [’14] splashing in the shallow end of celluloid along with Denis Villeneuve’s heavy hitter Arrival [’16]. It’s a circuit that applaused its own cinema, as well as one that embraces lower budget genre fares, which is a camp that The Void falls squarely in.
Taking cues from films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing [’82] and Fulci’s City of the Living Dead [’80], The Void drops us off in a poorly staffed hospital where one of its nurses (Ellen Wong) soon becomes the focal point of demonic possession after a man (Evan Stern) is taken in by a local sheriff. As the hospital begins to experiences the onslaught perpetrated by cloaked beings surrounding the hospital, its survivors must band together to put an end to what may be a breach of our own dimension.
Now it’s understandable if demonic, dimension, and beings are keywords that immediately put you off. It’s a type of horror that has been handled many times before, though it’s one that really can’t get old if placed in the right hands. Unfortunately for us, The Void is not in those hands. It’s a formula that has been embraced for decades by gorehounds and splatter fans alike, jam packed with everything a retro horror enthusiast could ask for – practical effects, blood soaked and dimly lit corridors, anti-religious undertones, grizzly deaths – giving rhyme and reason for such a massive retrolution (I don’t know if this has been coined yet, but I’ll just go with it.)
Directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski (Father’s Day [’11]) attempt one too many character expositions that the films central leads – Sheriff Daniels (Aaron Poole) and Nurse Allison Fraser (Kathleen Munroe) – feel partially disposed of. Now divorced after a miscarriage tore them apart, both Sheriff and Nurse are given enough flashbacks to their past as they observe their pain that we feel an emotional link between them. Instead of letting the aching beauty of that consume us, we are bombarded with supporting characters who create a sort of vacuum, sucking the life out of something with soul that all the copious amounts of gunk and decay end up feeling as if it’s all meant to cover up rather than reveal.
Joining the defense against the hospitals assault are two rifle-toting backwoods locals (Daniel Fathers and Mik Byskov) who seem privy to the evil doings that are overtaking the town, as well as a local sergeant (Art Hindle) whose soul existence is to bust balls before becoming fodder for the films special effects team. Rounding out are doomed survivors is Richard (Kenneth Walsh), the head doctor whose paternal and protective instincts shine a dim light on our two leads right before being picked off and given the Event Horizon [’97] treatment, waxing prophetic in an eye-roll induced character arch. I understand paying homage or respect to films of a bygone era, but The Void quickly tosses all of its chips onto the table, showing us what horror once was rather than what it can be. There’s only so much we can take before shit hits the fan and horror whiplash sets in.
The remaining survivors – with very few weapons and even less ammo – begin making their way into the hospitals basement, with sections of it not existing in the original blueprint, and soon enough we are treated to some brilliant tension beset by early survival horror games such as Resident Evil. As they slowly descend into the unknown, we are treated to a demonic chamber of contorted bodies and flayed cadavers. It’s a sight to behold as practical effects wizardry begins unraveling right in front of our very eyes as satanic demon hordes step in pools of blood and float over enough mangled bodies to make the Doom generation weep. Unfortunately, it dissolves into one too many quick cuts marred by strobe lights that makes focusing on the action its own descent into hell. It’s a technical choice that strips away a wealth of appreciation that could be poured into how cool the creatures actually look, though that isn’t to say we don’t get our fill.
One of the films noteworthy transformations consist of a nurse turned scalpel wielding hell-spawn contorting into a grotesque horse like being after being shot and left for dead. It’s a startling and awe-induced scene that helms the films more gore-thrilling moments, with the nurses face hanging in front as it stumbles around. Every effort by the special effects department deserves applause for its ambition and execution, working in an artistic field that’s becoming rarer nowadays with computer generated effects replacing the molding of practical magic. Unfortunately, it’s obscured more often than not with its oversaturation of shadows and unnecessary quick-cuts, detracting from the incredible work that went into literally raising all hell.
While Ti West made us want to re-watch The House of the Devil and revisit the babysitter sub-genre it pays respect to, Gillespie and Kostanski only drive us to revisit the films it mirrors, and though it’s difficult to praise their film for being the masterclass in horror it’s lauded as, it is easy to applaud its attempt at retroism, one that deserves to be seen. Just don’t be surprised when you find yourself wanting to watch the numerous films it regards half-way through its 90-minute run time. Then again, like the ambivalent audience reaction to The Thing upon its release in 1982, perhaps The Void will one day find its stride with me. Unfortunately, that just isn’t today.