Movie Review: Fans Of 1980s Horror May Enjoy “The Void” But They’ve Probably Seen Stranger Things

“(Directors Jeremy) Gillespie and (Steven) Kostanski struggle with an over-abundance of characters and some major pacing issues, revealing their inexperience behind the camera while showcasing their imagination and wit.”


 

In the middle of a routine patrol, officer Daniel Carter happens upon a blood-soaked figure limping down a deserted stretch of road. He rushes the young man to a nearby rural hospital staffed by a skeleton crew, only to discover that patients and personnel are transforming into something inhuman.

Disclaimer: I make it a point never to read any reviews prior to writing one, in fear of being influenced by someone else’s opinion. Upon finishing this review, I was somewhat surprised to discover a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes (granted, based on six reviews so far). I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to address the filmmakers:

Dear Steven & Jeremy,

I ask you to please not hold a grudge against my somewhat negative (albeit well-informed and eloquently written) review for the following reasons:

  1. I am taking advantage of the freedom of speech in this country before speech gets banned and sent into exile. (Poetic waxing aside, it’s just an opinion, dudes.)
  2. You are still much richer than I am.
  3. This review will in no way affect the traction of the film if it gets one (which I hope it will; I always root for ambitious independent filmmakers to attain success in this cruel, cruel cinematic world). The Commies at Rotten Tomatoes don’t pay attention to us lowlifes at IFC anyway.

(Disclaimer: Dear RT Staff, we don’t think you’re Commies, nor is anyone in our highly talented staff a “lowlife”; this was meant to reassure Steven & Jeremy – please do include us in your roster of prolific critics.)

Sincerely,

Alex.

In Hollywood, a talented artist sometimes has to find a niche, before gaining enough experience to exhibit their true potential. Take Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski. They are steadily achieving prominence in Hollywood, in the (respectively) art direction and make-up FX departments. While the former assisted in ensuring that films like “Pacific Rim” and “Suicide Squad” looked frightening and painterly, the latter painted the frightening creatures and baddies in those films.

Prior to resuming their day jobs (and collaboration) on the upcoming Stephen King adaptation/remake of Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1980s “classic” “It,” Jeremy and Steven team up to helm the horror flick “The Void,” utilizing what they’ve learned in their years in the industry, with mixed results. While there is no shortage of ambition or mayhem, Gillespie and Kostanski struggle with an all-over-the-place, laughably silly plot, and seem lost in countless homages to all-things-1980s.

Things start off swell, prior to getting bogged down in contrivances. Evil-looking men with rifles chase a young man and woman out of a dark house. James (Evan Stern) makes a narrow escape; the girl isn’t so lucky, shot, and lit on fire. Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole, bearing a striking resemblance to Aaron Paul) stumbles upon the crawling James on the side of the road. He takes him to an Arkham-like hospital, headed by the Vincent Price-like Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh). As James convulses on his cot, nurse Allison (Kathleen Munroe) converses with Daniel, revealing a traumatic past that will later play a crucial role in the film. You with me so far? Better be, because things get progressively more convoluted – though not necessarily complex – from here. Next thing he knows, Daniel stumbles upon nurse Beverly (Stephanie Belding) slooowly pulling a knife out of a patient’s eye. Having skinned her own face, Beverly turns to a terrified Daniel. “Can you help me?” she asks, reaching out… Therein, the insanity ensues.

Daniel experiences cosmic visions of another dimension, a hazy triangle forming in its viscous black clouds. A no-nonsense state trooper, Mitchell (Art Hindle) arrives on the scene – but not for long. Monk-like figures in white gowns, triangles sketched on their faces, trap everyone inside the hospital. Slimy creatures, consisting mostly of tentacles, emerge out of people’s bodies. Static phone calls from the “Perpetrator” assure Daniel that His “intentions are altruistic.”

There’s also a bored-but-sassy nurse (the under-appreciated, and here underused, Ellen Wong), the pregnant Maggie (Grace Munro), and a slew of other characters too disposable to name. Oh, and have I mentioned the triangle, which pops up everywhere, an occult key to the “mystery?” It all leads to a denouement that is both very silly and grotesque, and contains the following line of dialogue: “I lost my daughter to the abyss and tonight I’m calling her back!”

I do have to mention some positive stuff first. The film is predictably well art-directed, the make-up FX gruesome and believable. It does have its share of genuinely unnerving moments, such as Daniel’s first encounter with the figures in white. The 1980s are back, folks, and after “It Follows,” “Neon Demon,” and the mega-popular series “Stranger Things,” here’s another horror project supplemented by a synth revivalist score. It works (mostly) to its advantage, complementing the film – but the originality of using Giorgio Moroder/John Carpenter-style music is beginning to wane.

Gillespie and Kostanski struggle with an over-abundance of characters and some major pacing issues, revealing their inexperience behind the camera while showcasing their imagination and wit. “The Void” is wildly uneven. Not a single character is memorable, but there are memorable one-liners. Scenes with more than three people tend to be shrill and poorly edited, but then they are followed by quieter, more subtle, and more effective sequences. As the directors try to find their footing, so does the audience, lost in the (literal) murk on-screen.

And damn, this film is dark. Yes, the FX are cool, but most of the scenes involving them are either cut with a buzzsaw or dimly lit – so that one would notice the flaws, I assume, or the multiple plot holes, for that matter (e.g. how did the hospital staff – and Daniel, who’s supposedly a frequent visitor – never notice the, ahem, “happenings” in the basement?).

The dialogue, while not atrocious, isn’t exactly Shakespeare either (an example of an exchange: “We’re gonna die!” “No, we’re not gonna die. You’re gonna die!”) – but nor does it try to be. Themes of resurrection and mourning are tacked on, but nowhere close to fully-fleshed out, further rendered silly by said dialogue (“I defy God! I spent my life resisting death, but now I understand – I must embrace it.”) “The Void” also relies too heavily on exposition, with characters explaining plot points as they unravel. This film would be much more effective if 50% of the dialogue was eliminated. John Carpenter, to whom this film is heavily indebted, knew when to shut the hell up and let his imagery do the talking.

Obviously inspired by the hip new thing, “Stranger Things,” the directors pay homage to “The Thing,” “Aliens,” “Hellraiser,” “The Fly,” and add a dash of the more recent “Martyrs” and “Event Horizon.” As a result, we get an unholy amalgamation, a midnight stoner B-flick nowhere near as assured as the films to which it aspires, be it the prestige or the cult classics. The intriguing imagery, impressive production design, and some moments of sheer terror are all there – but that’s to be expected from the film’s two craftsmen. Perhaps Jeremy and Steven should stick to their day jobs. Their palpable passion and ambition get lost in the void of lackluster execution.

In theaters and on VOD April 7th


 

Alex graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a BA in Film & Media Arts and studied journalism at the Northwestern University in Chicago. While there, he got acquainted with the late Roger Ebert, who supported and inspired Alex in his career as a screenwriter and film critic. Alex has produced, written and directed a short zombie film, “Parched,” which is being distributed internationally and he is developing a series for a TV network, and is in pre-production on a major motion picture.

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