Saturday, July 8, 2017

Movie Review: The Void (2016)

A couple months ago, I saw that the Canadian horror film The Void was playing at The Plaza independent theater in Atlanta. I hemmed and hawwed about going to see it and eventually proved my father's dictum "'I don't know' eventually becomes 'no'" correct. However, although it left the theater, it soon came out on home media. So I headed over to Videodrome (Atlanta's last video rental store) and got it. Now for the review...

The Plot

Police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) stumbles across bloodied James (Evan Stern) while on late-night patrol and takes him to the nearby hospital, which is in the process of being closed down after a fire. There he turns James over to his estranged wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) and the skeletal remaining staff, including intern Kim (Ellen Wong).

Things take a turn when nurse Beverly (Stephanie Belding) kills a patient and attacks Daniel, forcing him to shoot her, and then her body starts mutating into a tentacle monster. White-robed cultists surround the hospital and a violent father and son (who aren't named in the film or credits but the Wikipedia article calls them Vincent and Simon), whom James had escaped from earlier, burst in with guns intent on killing James.

And that's just the beginning of the mayhem...

The Good

*This is a totally original story, although it's clearly influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. This isn't a remake and it isn't even an adaptation of a book, comic, etc. It's a purely original film, something that's an all-too-rare treasure these days.

*This film is in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, which I always appreciate. There simply aren't enough films in this tradition, and those tend to be either older (like The Dunwich Horror or Re-Animator) or not as well known (like Dagon, which I own, or Cthulhu).

*The reveal that Daniel and Allison are estranged spouses is done very subtly--he spots her drinking coffee from a particular mug and states that he'd been wondering where it went.

*Daniel's reaction to killing Beverly--whom he might know through Allison--is realistic. He gets the shakes and ends up vomiting. This isn't some action-movie killing machine here, but a far more realistic character.

*The movie starts out grabbing the viewer's attention right away--James and an unnamed woman escape some un-described but no doubt Very Bad things at the cult's headquarters, with Vincent and Sam in hot pursuit. No slow and boring buildup here.

*There's a nice Lovecraft in-joke--the hospital is in Marsh County. In Lovecraft's lore, Obed Marsh is a sea captain who, in Lovecraft's story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," brings the worship of the sea god Dagon (and blasphemous mating with the amphibian-humanoid Deep Ones) to the titular town.

*Horror films these days are often overloaded with badly-done computer-generated imagery, but The Void has purely practical special effects. Consequently, when the creepy critters start showing up, they look like they're actually real instead of video-game entities interacting with the cast. The abomination known as Spawn (with its awful PlayStation One demon-lord Malbolgia) this was not. That is one of the strongest aspects of the film, and something that has won much justifiable praise from critics and viewers alike.

(It's a pity the DVD doesn't have a whole featurette dedicated to the effects alone. I would have loved to see that.)

*There's a lot of good imagery in the film, especially "the other side" and some of the cult iconography.

*The loss of a child plays a major role in the lives of three characters in the film and that's given the gravity it deserves. Daniel and Allison are estranged owing to the death of their son in childbirth; many marriages end if a child dies. And one character is driven to extremes by the death of his child--I won't go into detail for reasons of spoilers.

*In many horror films the characters have ample chance to get out of the situation or at least avoid making bad decisions that get them killed. Here there's a very good reason the characters don't even make a token attempt to run the blockade of cultists and get out of the hospital--Maggie's pregnancy is getting complicated and any attempt to take her elsewhere risk her death or the death of her child. And since Maggie needs medicine, a character will need to go looking for it, which leads to...complications.

*Ellen Wong does a good job as Kim, an intern who's called upon to complete tasks beyond her training and doesn't think she can do them.

*The movie stands on its own, although there's definitely room for a sequel. No details for reasons of spoilers, but a sequel following the survivors in this world (as they potentially have to deal with the cultists) and those who've ended up on the other side and presumably want to get home could be pretty cool.

The Bad

*It becomes very difficult to tell just what's going on in the second half to one-third of the film when people start hallucinating. That was my single biggest problem and why it won't get as high a review as I'd wish to give it. In Lovecraftian lore people exposed to the horrors beyond tend to start going crazy, but that made much of the film very confusing. Furthermore, it's my understanding the characters were hallucinating because the villain was attacking them telepathically, which is something that could have been eliminated. The bad guy is already dangerous enough, especially with the cultists as muscle.

*The opening credits are long and slow.

*Some of the hallucinations are useful in providing back-stories for Vincent and Simon, but per my last point, it made the last part of the movie rather confusing. It might've been better to have more conventional flashbacks, or have previous events expressed in dialogue. "As you know, Bob" is something to avoid, but exposition-through-dialogue can be done.

*There's something about the hospital I can't really describe for reasons of spoilers that could have been foreshadowed better.

*The dozens of white-robed cultists play a major role in the first half of the film, but by the end of the film they seem to have disappeared entirely. Maybe a scene depicting them fleeing the hospital as events take a turn for the worse could have been filmed?

*There were also too many cultists. A cult that big, especially if it's up to the activities James is claiming (and the villain later elaborates on), seems like something that would attract a lot of attention real quick. Instead of dozens and dozens of cultists with knives blockading the hospital, maybe there could have been a much smaller number with rifles hiding in the trees and shooting anybody attempting to escape? One or two snipers can make things difficult for a much larger number of people, especially if it's dark, and the pregnant Maggie would slow down any dash for the cars.

*Sometimes the editing is a bit choppy--toward the end we see a dead cultist or cultists on the floor of the hospital, but I'm not sure how they actually got there.

The Verdict

Very creative, especially in our age of remakes and derivative crap. A worthy effort I wish I could have given it a better review. I'd recommend renting it or getting on Amazon video. 7.0 out of 10.

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