The Void is the kind of horror film that wears its genre influences openly and doesn’t waste the audience’s patience by dragging things out. It’s an expertly composed, genuinely thrilling effort full of shocks and surprises that moves at a lightning quick pace while remaining memorable. Yes, a lot of the chills in The Void are based on plenty of classic demonic and survival thrillers that have come before it – especially about 80% of John Carpenter’s output – but the latest film from Canadian co-directors, writers, and special effects artists Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski knows precisely how long it can get away with its well constructed homage before it grows tiresome or hackneyed. It’s one of the most economical and gorgeous looking horror films I’ve seen in quite some time, and genre buffs will likely be thankful for it.
The Void is a siege picture, monster movie, and a demonic cult thriller rolled into one. While out on patrol one night, small town cop Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) picks up a junkie (Evan Stern) found stumbling around injured on a rural road. Daniel brings the mysterious and agitated young man to a local hospital that had recently suffered critical damage to half of the building during a fire and is on the verge of moving locations. The already ominous tone of Daniel’s night turns even darker when monstrous forces start taking control of the hospital from the inside and a bunch of cloaked cult members brandishing large knives surround the outside, keeping Daniel, the staff, and the hospital’s patients from leaving the building. Considering what has already made its way inside the hospital, it seems like they’re all damned if they stay and damned if they leave.
The characters locked within the hospital are serviceable enough fodder for a thriller where people need to treat each other warily and get on one another’s nerves. There’s the only doctor on call (Kenneth Welsh), a pregnant young woman (Grace Munro) and her grandfather (James Millington), a petulant nursing student counting the seconds until her shift is over (Ellen Wong), a State Trooper sent in to investigate (Art Hindle), and a nurse with a tragic backstory (Kathleen Munroe), who also happens to be Daniel’s ex. There’s also an uppity, angry man (Daniel Fathers) and a mute young man (Mik Byskov) who fight their way into the hospital and know exactly what the monsters and cult members are capable of, demanding revenge and answers at any cost. These characters are archetypes to some degree, but they fit together nicely as puzzle pieces for the filmmakers and performers to have some fun with. It’s a nice blend of characters the viewer either wants to root for or see get brutally slaughtered at some point, with any scenes with Poole and Fathers squaring off standing out as dramatic high points. Also, like any great horror film, any of them can die or get injured out of nowhere at any time. Gillespie and Kostanski know that if they’re going to make a classical siege picture with somewhat stock characters, they need to have a degree of unpredictability to keep the audience invested, and their instincts as writers and filmmakers is spot on.
The Void starts off a bit like a mash-up Carpenter’s creature feature masterpiece The Thing and his gritty action thriller Assault on Precinct 13, before morphing into something closer to the horror master’s divisive opus Prince of Darkness, and then eventually becoming something that has more in common with Clive Barker than Carpenter. It doesn’t come across so much like watching pastiche homage, but rather the kind of feeling one gets from reading a corker of a paperback potboiler. As their heroes get closer and closer to the heart of darkness inside the hospital and the answers they discover raise more questions, it becomes apparent that not everything raised in The Void will be addressed for the audience, but that hardly matters when the film around the sometimes obtuse details has such an accomplished sense of tension and escalation.
Kostanski and Gillespie, who have previously worked with the more joking Astron-6 collective and are even better known as a special effects make-up artist and an art director, respectively, understand that their jolts are rooted in ideas that have already been done before and that they need to work harder to make everything feel fresh and new. The Void moves and functions like something we’ve seen before, but Kostanski and Gillespie’s take on this material has a visual panache all its own. The practical gore effects are appropriately slimy and squirmy, and the production design and cinematography (courtesy of Samy Inayeh) offer plenty of visual tricks on their own. If the story in The Void isn’t new, the way it’s being presented is refreshing. It doesn’t look like anything that Carpenter or Barker would make, and that ends up being The Void’s most endearing asset. It’s a classically minded thriller made by a pair of up and coming talents with a lot of great tricks up their sleeve. It’s as endearing and promising as it is frightening.