Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski are perhaps best known as part of the Astron-6 collective, responsible for 1980s-themed genre satires like Manborg, Father’s Day and The Editor. So The Void comes as a real surprise – a 1980s retro-themed horror movie, yes, but one played with a straight face – and all the better for it.
Riffing on elements of H.P. Lovecraft, John Carpenter (including, unexpectedly, Assault on Precinct 13) and Lucio Fulci’s gothic, story-light films of the early Eighties, the film opens with a police officer finding an injured man beside a desert road, and taking him to a local hospital that is barely staffed with a night shift crew. Things get weird as a group of cloaked, masked figures surround the hospital – but just as you think you are in for a cult-themed siege movie, things start to get increasingly strange inside the hospital, with shape-shifting, tentacle creatures, people who are not what they seem and a gateway to Hell being opened up, as the disparate band of characters – including vigilantes, junkies and a pregnant woman – battle for survival against Satanic forces and occultist conspiracists.
All this is done with plenty of visual panache – practical effects junkies will be thrilled with the throwback creatures that are effectively done, while lovers of bizarre cinema will love the constant plot turns. In fact, if we are to find fault with the film, then it is with the increasingly incoherent storyline. While the film manages to keep going thanks to its sheer weirdness and relentless action, it must be noted that the plot is rather under-developed, with lurches into the strange and unexpected twists that make very little sense – many viewers will be left scratching their heads in confusion as this film progresses, and for some people, this will be where it loses them. I sympathise with that – incoherence is nothing to admire, and even the weirdest film should be able to make sense within its own universe. If the directors had shown a little more concern about story telling and a little less about recreating 1980s excess, then the film would have been genuinely great, rather than merely good.
As it is, The Void is heavily flawed, but still quite the rollercoaster ride, and for those looking for nothing more than gory surrealism, non-stop action and impressive visuals, then it will be a very satisfying experience. As a return to old-school horror aesthetics, it’s a great success, and suggests that with more attention paid to the narrative structure of the film, Gillespie and Kostanski might yet have a genre masterpiece in them.