“You’d be surprised at the things you find when you go looking…”
I found myself in the mood for something Lovecraftian that didn’t feature fish people. I saw The Void a couple of years ago when it was first released on streaming, and I found myself thinking that it was the exact kind of movie I was looking for. Dark, claustrophobic, weird and full of practical special effects. I couldn’t remember if I’d watched it for 31 Days before, though – and I try and make sure that I don’t repeat if I can avoid it. I was too lazy to fire up the desktop and check, though – so I took a chance and let ‘er run.
And it turns out I haven’t watched it for 31 Days, so the lesson is – never try. No, wait – sometimes try. Yeah, more like that.
Also, these are the same people that made Manborg?! Holy crap! I haven’t seen any of their other films, though The Editor is on my list, but nothing about Manborg – as enjoyable as it is – would lead me to believe that they had this kind of more dark, serious film in them.
As I mentioned, this is the second viewing of The Void for me, and I found I enjoyed some aspects of it more this time around and some aspects of it less.
The Void is currently streaming on Shudder for subs and for rent/sale at the usual outlets. There is a Blu-ray release, which I might have to track down just for the features on the creature effects.
The Void starts off with a bang. A young man named Daniel flees a rural house as behind him two men pursue a girl from the same house. The girl is shot in the back and burned alive. Then they head off into the darkness after the young man.
This opening sequence is the calling card for the film. We’re going to get violent and dark. But first we’ll get something of a reprieve as we’re introduced to deputy Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole). He finds the wounded Daniel crawling into the road and brings him to the nearest hospital – which happens to be in the process of being shut down after a recent fire. It’s also where Daniel’s ex-wife, Allison (Kathleen Munroe) still works.
The best thing about The Void, and the reason I wanted to watch it again, is the mood. Everything’s oppressive and weird and the sky seems both dark and weirdly luminescent, like during an extreme storm, but without rain or wind. The hospital – all but abandoned – is creepy as well, full of dark rooms and corridors partially lit and staffed with only a minimal amount of people. This is a bad place, we can tell just by looking at it, and the people stuck there – Allison, an older man and his pregnant granddaughter, a lone male patient, an intern, a nurse, and Doctor Powell (Kenneth Walsh) – should all leave as soon as possible. Although it’s probably too late.
It’s certainly too late for the patient, Cliff, because before we even know things are going to hell the nurse, Bev, is in his room, stabbing him through the eye. When Daniel enters the room Bev, charges him with the bloody scalpel and Daniel is forced to shoot her. In the aftermath Daniel passes out and has a strange vision of a gray landscape and roiling crowds.
Things move quickly after this. A state trooper arrives because of the bloodbath at the farmhouse, but don’t get attached. A bunch of white-robed cultists arrive soon after and surround the hospital as a strange, echoing horn sounds in the distance. Then the two men from the opening sequence break through the line of cultists and enter the hospital in order to kill Daniel. In the melee Dr. Powell is killed.
Also there’s an enormous Bev monster thing that kills the state trooper (I told you not to get attached). It’s all been weird up until that point, but with the arrival of an honest to god monster the film trips over into being something less menacing and creepy and more weird and monster-ific.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can only build mood for so long, after all, and a wall of cultists armed with knives isn’t that menacing unless they actually DO something. So as the film moves towards a series of more and more surreal events – including a basement that shouldn’t exist, a ton more creatures and way too many people taking their own faces off (okay, two – still too many) it’s actually satisfying in a lot of ways.
The Void spends a little time building up relationships between the characters early on – particularly with dialogue that suggests Daniel and Allison have lost a child – but the emotional aspects are given short shrift once the real madness begins to take hold. Maybe that’s more realistic, but as movie goers it leaves us with little to hold on to as things get increasingly surreal. It’s also a disservice to the actors, who are generally doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.
The parade of disconcerting and sometimes gory imagery is inventive and done in a way that’s particularly effective and consistent with the mood, but because the characters have been given such short-shrift it’s hard to maintain investment in their fates. I think the filmmakers have erred too much on the side of ‘show, don’t tell’ in this – giving us moments that are like brief flashes of insight, but aren’t long enough to really illuminate the situation. (I’m thinking particularly of a later scene between the two men – father and son – from the opening sequence.)
There are enough twists and turns that I don’t feel like I can give away much more without spoiling things a little. I enjoyed the film a lot, despite the way it feels like it gets shallower the deeper we go. It manages to have a feeling of despairing menace that I associate with a real Lovecraft experience. For all the characters know the whole world outside the hospital could be a mirror of that’s transpiring within, but they continue on despite this, willing to face and maybe conquer demons both internal and otherwise.
The Bottom Line
The Void gives us an enjoyable and moody Lovecraftian tale with excellent actors and effects, creating a palpable mood of menace that pays off in an escalating creepiness. Its biggest drawbacks are in the lackluster fleshing out of characters and an increasingly reliance on surreal situations and effects as the movie progresses, leaving us with less of a creepfest and more of a monster mash.