Review: The Void

A few words on where The Void succeeds, and falls short:

After waiting through a patently unnecessary pre-credits sequence, and then a familiarly freshman credit sequence, the film does dive right into its action and there’s generally enough to hold your attention for the entire duration – with notable exceptions being Dr. Powell’s theatrical pontifications (the man seems to demand an audience at all times) and those damnably dull “character” moments focused on Carter and [the nameless] Father.

I think we’d all agree that Void‘s strongest elements involve its special effects, production design, makeup and costumes… first rate, really.  There was quite a bit of homaging to Silent Hill going on throughout, such as the static-emitting radio, the inexplicable psychology-based “reality shifts” that occur in the sub-basement – and, notably, the creature design.  Mostly I’m quite critical of Void, but I cannot deny that it is a rare example of appropriately Silent Hilly monsters, which have proven notoriously difficult for other artists to successfully encapsulate (I consider this a feat).

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But there are loads of issues elsewhere, usually related to Void‘s greatest and most obvious detraction: its proud status as “mix tape”.  For instance, when it comes down to filling in the gaps between the homaged products with original writing and ideas, noticeable superficialities and inconsistencies become apparent.

Take the nature of the hallucinations Carter and Father experience: when Dr. Powell places the flagrantly pointless phone call to his own office from the morgue to speak to Carter (again, Powell relishes an audience), he cryptically remarks that he “felt” that Carter had begun to “see things”.  Yet when Father begins to hallucinate in the sub-basement Abattoir, James cries out “He’s in his head!!“, implying that Powell is responsible for projecting images or distorting reality.  While being a rather obvious bastardization of the dynamic famously played out in Silent Hill 2 (and perhaps combined with Silent Hill 1’s idea of the “Nowhere” map), this “reality shift” sequence significantly derailed Void‘s momentum, or perhaps marked the moment when the story actually gets in its own way.  At the time, I assumed we were meant to vaguely infer that “the closer one gets to the Triangle Gateway, the more reality becomes untethered” – hence the mysteriously shifting layout of the basement and sub-basement.  So which is it?  Are these “reality shifts” a natural phenomenon one experiences in proximity to the Triangle Gate?  Is Powell “projecting” distortions, hallucinations, to draw characters in certain directions?  If so, how or why he is able to do this (and why he doesn’t do it more often) is anybody’s best guess.

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Yes, most problems involve that Doctor, and unnecessary characterization.  Is it relevant for us to understand why Powell wishes to bring people back from the dead? – as if our imaginations couldn’t possibly guess why a person would desire such a thing?  We’re all born and we die – that’s not enough?  Not here.  Powell’s stated goal is the resurrection of his daughter.  Alright, about that: months earlier (presumably), Powell impregnated Maggie and intended to use her fetus to this effect – so why, then, does he not bring Maggie to the sub-basement when he heads down there?  It isn’t until the film’s finale that Maggie simply “shows up”, escorted by Powell’s cultists.  Once Maggie’s fetus is “tainted” by Powell gesturing in her direction, she births some brutish abomination – which looks great, btw, and all the better for dragging Maggie’s corpse along with it.  But then Daughter chases Father and Son out of the morgue, where the two men successfully execute her in minutes.  So much for Doc’s elaborate, surely multi-year scheme – and unless I’m mistaken, he isn’t doing anything important as he simply allows Daughter to wander off, and shows no reaction at all during her death.  Not so psychic anymore?

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Metal Gear Solid, anyone?

Instead, Powell brings Allison to the sub-basement, for purposes, again, of which we can only speculate.  Powell gets her insta-pregnant, since in this universe apparently you can use any woman’s womb, any time, as a gateway to an undefined dimension of Lovecraftian monstrosities – and what these monstrosities have to do with the bizarre “dimension” or alien planet seen at the end of the film is, again, anybody’s best guess.  Carter later comes upon Allison to find, essentially, a Shoggoth birthing itself out of her abdomen.  I suppose Doc just likes spreading despair at any opportunity that presents itself (he’s certainly laid back for such a dogmatist).  Best as I can interpret, Powell has gained unholy access to a “death dimension” or whatever the fuck (homage to Phantasm, right?  I actually haven’t seen it).  This supreme vagueness could help explain why certain characters (but not others) return from death – but certainly not why they are then overtaken by gooey monstrosities, as we witness after Carter shockingly executes the unglued nurse Beverly.  I also would’ve liked to know why – why?! – Allison is present with Carter in the film’s final scene.  Because, what, it’s the “death dimension”?  So where’s Powell?

And after all of these inflicted narrative tortures the ultimate survival of Kim was a slap in the face, even if she’s cute as a dozen buttons.

Clearly I was hungry for more narrative content (and more respect for narrative content) – in particular I would’ve loved to learn more about what dark arts Powell had been delving into, at least a single allusion beyond literally two shots of those generalized sephirothic, triangley design schemas.

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And yet even all this may have been tolerable were it not for Void‘s cinematography.  It’s not that Void wasn’t an attractive film – certain segments were extremely attractive.  I am torn: on the one hand when it comes to horror, a camera that does not give us direct glimpses of terrible things is very smart, following the rules; and on the other, does Void not abuse a litany of modern horror film clichés involving indecisive handheld shots and too much cutting to make any meaningful sense of the space or the action?  I found myself struggling against the cinematography for the film’s duration, rubbing against the grain.  Am I being too harsh, too unfair for such an ambitious indie effort impressively funded via Indiegogo?  It was distributed, after all, widely.

Narrative, cinematography… no, actually, I think Void‘s greatest offense was its reverence for its own product – not even necessarily its content, but presentation.  My generation and the millenials behind me seem to have to fight manfully against our own crippling, constant self-awareness, but even that doesn’t quite excuse the extent to which a successful viewing of The Void seems to require a rather serious experience.  I am tempted to say the filmmakers did not have enough “fun” – but we seem to differ on what makes something fun.  I get a great deal of enjoyment simply from watching certain filmmakers work, strong film or weak.  Here I saw little more than ambition and a propensity for nostalgia, and a much more faithful adaptation of a survival horror video game loaded with action (Objective: Retrieve shotgun from cruiser outside hospital).  It isn’t a scary film, but a film that takes place within the horror genre – which is not an offense in itself by any means.

I’ll highlight a few moments in the film which, to me, really stood out positively:

  • While I don’t think The Void is actually a Lovecraftian film, I know it wanted to be or thought of itself as such – and in this vein it was simply The Correct Move to have the opening credits end over a starry sky.  Tiny thing, but vital.
  • The images we see during Carter’s first hallucination – simple, effective, very attractive.  Even if they were eventually revealed to be elaborate cockteases.
  • The first real battle with a monster, under the strobing fluorescent light, climaxes in a bizarre moment when an amorphous fleshy form rises from the creature, just before being blown to bits.  That moment of rising was hair-raising, I can’t explain why, and I love it for that.
  • When Carter, Father, Son and James first enter the Abattoir in the sub-basement they encounter one of Powell’s “failed experiments” (and a potential callout to Curwen’s similar undying abominations in his catacombs in Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward): the hideously mangled creature repeatedly ramming its head through a spike.  Perhaps the strongest, most original moment in the entire film and a triumph of design and artistry.  Congrats, guys.
  • It may not appeal to anybody else, but when Carter finally enters the morgue, the buildup to him being stabbed in the back signals a confidence and competence on behalf of the filmmakers.
  • And finally, I think we all let out a satisfied titter or giggle after the moment when Powell’s Daughter is summoned, and the beast casually crushes the head of a floored cultist, with which the filmmakers certainly indulged in gory fun.

The Void succeeds and fails in the ways that Hollywood does, at large: ambition, production, marketing, technicality and workmanship are enthusiastically embraced, while ideas are overlooked and undernourished.

written by David Ashley

 

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