Drawn into “The Void” (2016)

A review of The Void 

2016 | Dir. Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski | Canada | 90 mins.

I have a soft spot for Canadian horror, so while catching up on some new horror releases, I naturally gravitated first towards The Void.

The film certainly sucks the viewer in, and does not waste time in setting the tone with punctuated moments of terror. In the opening sequence, two characters burst out of an isolated country house in a panic. One flees into the woods as the other is shot outright on the front lawn, then casually set on fire and burnt to death by the two men pursuing them. Yep. You have my attention. So tell me more.

After encountering the other injured escapee later that night on the side of the road, Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) delivers him to an eerily quiet nearby hospital, where he soon finds himself under attack. In one hospital room, he interrupts a nurse as she pulls scissor blades from a patient’s eye socket, setting in motion countless other instances of penetrative body horror. Really, what better environment to explore the messy juxtaposition of life and death than at a hospital?

Amidst the gore and chaos are unsettling long shots of dark empty hallways, and intervals of other stunning imagery: dark and dreary roving skies, distant cosmic swirls, and landscapes of thin, bare trees against the horizon are intercut with close-ups of internal organs. All of this creates a hallucinatory effect, and serves to emphasize the sense of isolation necessary for the coming horror, to enhance the ominous circumstances that unfold as an army of doomsday-type cult members surround the premises like lost trick-or-treaters cloaked in white bed sheets.

Ultimately, this film operates as a creature-feature, bearing marks of influence from canonical horror practitioners like H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter (loved the scene in which Ellen Wong’s character, Kim, is crouched in a closet, with sharp red lighting cutting through the slats in the closet door à la Halloween), and its practical effects are pretty solid – flailing tentacles, animated corpses, skin flaps and all else. It knows the horror tropes and comfortably slips in some of the most familiar ones: flickering lights threaten to blanket a room in darkness, a small team investigates a creepy basement, someone receives a mysterious phone call, and the ‘mad scientist’ figure, which serves the narrative’s themes of resurrection and transformation quite nicely. There is also the inevitable moment where a character or two decide to break away from the group to split off on their own.

Lately, my mind has been fixating on the theme of ‘community’, a trope easily extracted from many horror films (and especially notable in Canadian horror). The Void illustrates the ‘garrison mentality’ dynamic at its core, depicting the kind of strain that is born of a community built on the necessity for survival. The term itself is discussed at length by literary critic Northrop Frye (see: The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination, 1971) with regards to the Canadian imagination, and examines the situation in which a group is drawn together to survive the harsh reality of their surroundings, only to find tension growing from within, the threat of violence looming. In this case, as the surviving authority figure of the group, Officer Carter is the most logical choice for leader, trying with somewhat ineffectual effort to maintain order among those trapped in the hospital, while facing obstacles like aggressive strangers, injured people, strange creatures, rising tempers, fear, confusion, and outright horror. All of this is supported by an intimidating soundtrack with cues that sound like bad feedback at a metal concert; pulsing bass notes; mechanical, grinding howls; baby cries; and even the soft plinkety-plunks of a few stray piano keys. The music over the closing credits is an especially nice touch: country blues crackles on a radio spouting the entirely appropriate lyrics to “Bye and Bye We’re Goin’ to See the King”.

Honestly, after only one viewing, I’m won over by the ethereal conspiracy that is The Void. I think I can anticipate future cosplay action as one of the cultists. Anyone have a spare bed sheet?

 

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