Early on in The Void, a bored orderly remarks, “You know, you’re more likely to die in a hospital than anywhere else on earth.” This could very well be true in real life, but it goes double for horror movies: from the early days of poverty row mad science cheapies to The Omen to Halloween II to Planet Terror, hospitals have long served as fertile ground for monsters, psychos, and other horrible cinematic fates. And with good reason: a hospital can be converted into a spooky funhouse with very little modification, already filled as it is with handy hiding places, sharp objects, and machines to dramatically announce death, all laden with reminders of one’s own mortality, and a reason to stay open all night. Set your horror movie in a hospital, and you’re already halfway there.
The hospital in The Void is spookier than most: half-destroyed in a mysterious fire (and seemingly pretty podunk to begin with), it is in the process of being packed up and moved to a better location. The skeleton crew (including Twin Peaks’ Kenneth Welsh and Scott Pilgrim’s Ellen Wong) is accustomed to the sleepy small-town pace, with nothing more than the occasional pregnancy to keep them on their toes. That is, of course, until local deputy Daniel Carter comes across a hysterical man covered in blood (not all his) on a dirt road. Carter’s arrival at the hospital is tense – his estranged wife is among the staff – but not as much as the sudden appearance of a hoard of silent, knife-wielding figures in robes standing watch at the edge of the parking lot. And even they are quickly placed on the backburner, as hospital staff begin losing their minds, and tentacles begin sprouting from the most unexpected places. Oh, and there’s also a pregnant girl in the waiting room. I’ll let you speculate as to how well that goes.
I mentioned a couple of actors above, but make no mistake: the star of The Void is its effects team. Directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski are best known for their work in art direction and make up effects, respectively (both have worked under Guillermo Del Toro, and on NBC’s brilliant-but-cancelled Hannibal), and as central members of the scrappy Astron-6 filmmaking collective. The creatures of The Void are created entirely via practical effects (that is, latex and corn syrup, as opposed to ones and zeros), and they are, quite simply, a goopy delight. Several of the monsters are too damn big to even fit in the frame – an effective way to convey Lovecraftian horror and mask budgetary restrictions – and later hordes resemble the bored doodles of a particularly morbid med student. It should go without saying that no two beasts look alike; each is lovingly crafted to deliver its own brand of nightmare.
From the trailers, I went into The Void expecting an homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing – and with its whipping tentacles and closed-quarters setting, it is that to be sure. But as things got more phantasmagorical, I realized that it draws from an impressively curated well of sources: the Lovecraftian experiments of From Beyond; the eloquent demons of Hellraiser; the dreamy mythology of Phantasm; and, particularly, the delirious nastiness of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (a classic hospital horror film if there ever was one; The Void even lifts its iconic through-the-head shot). Its ‘80s horror influences extend beyond the cinematic, too; as a sucker for classic “Satanic panic” paranoia, I was especially tickled by the descriptions of the mysterious cult’s rituals, which could have been lifted straight from a vintage hysterical evangelical tract.
This laundry list of influences might sound like a knock, but for a film like The Void, it’s meant as a recommendation. Like such recent horror sensations as It Follows and Stranger Things, The Void is clearly a love letter to the horrors of years past. The exercise is relatively straight-faced, compared to the likes of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie – there’s some humorous banter, but no winks to the camera – yet, for all its grue, it’s never unpleasant. This is a movie made by people who know full well the joys that come from watching a big, disgusting monster movie, one that makes you wince and cover your eyes but never becomes a chore to watch. Like the best of the movies it emulates, The Void is best paired with a big greasy pizza, a healthy stockpile of brews (or Mountain Dews, for those looking to fully recreate their dorky teenage years), and some similarly inclined friends. Unlike such recent festival darlings as The Babadook or The Witch, The Void’s appeal might not extend far beyond its base, but to those people – and by now you likely know who you are – it’s a total joy.
dir. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
Part of the Boston Underground Film Festival