The Emptiness of “The Void” (2016)

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The hyperbole is strong with this one. Image source: horrorpedia.com

(This review contains SPOILERS)

The Void has an okay setup: Something Bad has happened in an isolated house; a man flees and is subsequently captured by nameless, rifle-toting Father (Daniel Fathers) and mute Son (Mik Byskov). The trio makes tracks to the nearby hospital, which is in the final stages of transition to another location. In the meantime, local cop Danny (Aaron Poole) encounters an injured person and rushes him to the hospital. The skeleton crew – including Danny’s ex, Allison (Kathleen Munroe) – quickly finds themselves locked within a scenario older than the late George Romero: white-robed, knife-carrying cultists surround the building, while the survivors’ bodies become unfortunate hosts to gooey, Lovecraftian monsters.

Oh, and the basement is a portal to Hell. Or something.

Co-writers and –directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, who both have roots in the Astron-6 collective (Manborg; Father’s Day; The Editor), seem to be pushing toward mainstream legitimacy with The Void. The problem is, they lean on the same lazy cherry-picking that defines any number of contemporary horror films. Distanced from Astron-6’s darkly funny aesthetic, it becomes just another genre flick defined by its borrowed parts.

In other words: The Void is not special. Despite its barnstorming intention to rip the face off many a jaded horror fan, all badass-like, it somehow winds up far less ambitious and exciting than, say, Almost Human.

Of all its transgressions, one of the most egregious is its stock characters: will pregnant teen Maggie’s (Grace Munro) ready-to-pop offspring be a manifestation of something awful? Will Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) whip out some delightfully 16-bit moves on the tentacled beasties in between bouts of bitching about how work is haaaaaard? (If only!)

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She thought her Neon Demon audition was going well… Image source: filmfutter.com

What about ol’ Doc Powell (Kenneth Welsh – Survival of the Dead), who somehow gets transformed into Nix from Lord of Illusions? I don’t know, but he delivers a monologue to Allison that is ridiculous in a way Clive Barker never would have considered. Between could-care-less practical FX sequences, the film bogs down in inane dialog exchanges and nonsensical exposition that only muddies the plot.

A prime example of The Void‘s indecision is in how Danny is reduced to Good Cop, Bad Cop, Panicky Cop, or Goofy Cop – to the point where the filmmakers seem to determine his mood by coin toss. He and Allison have a tortured backstory centering around the loss of a child, but it’s so badly integrated into the plot that it comes off as an afterthought.

The use of monstrous “birth” imagery as a corollary to the opening of a portal to another world (the ending includes a huge lift from John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness) is a stretch; mostly, Gillespie and Kostanski are trying – and ultimately failing – to be as outrageous as possible. An early confrontation with a lumbering beast occurs as a dangling fluorescent light flickers in the foreground, and serves as a harbinger for what’s to come – dank, dark settings and clumsy editing defuse any potential gore-gasm.

Birth = death. Family = destruction. The ones you love = the ones who will kill you. The best horror films render these deceptively simple themes with great impact (after all, who can forget the iconic image of daughter murdering mother in Night of the Living Dead?); the worst of the genre treat them literally and laughably. While the hothead Father and Son are one of many obnoxious wrinkles in the story, they – like Danny and Allison; like Maggie and her grandfather (James Millington) – thread a half-assed theme of  “family values” through the narrative. Yet nothing is done to synthesize this with the story at large, so its potential lies dormant throughout.

And when Father and Son descend into the basement, where the source of the evil is shacking up, they undergo an encounter with “Hell” so lame, it barely registers.

Baskin this ain’t.

Shoot, this ain’t even Flatliners.

By the end, I was left wondering how long Danny would writhe around with a knife in his back. After that, I had a flashback to David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl vanishing into “the Sea of Darkness, and all therein that can be explored,” and wished I was watching a certain Lucio Fulci film that brings the gore – and conveys an authentic sense of mystery and wonder – while going above and Beyond.

Jonny Numb’s Letterboxd Rating: 1 out of 5 stars