If The Void came out in the 1980s, it might have spawned an entire franchise, spent decades burnishing its credentials as a cult horror gem, and would be the subject any day now of a lovely restored deluxe edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, Arrow or some other niche home video shingle. As it stands, this being 2017, The Void is still a blast as a horror film and a kind of a throwback to those wild and crazy days of three decades ago. It lacks the sophistication and resonance of the genre’s finer outings of late, but it piles on the atmosphere and gore in bucketfuls.
Aaron Poole stars as a small town cop named Carter whose relatively quiet overnight shift takes a disquieting turn when he discovers a blood-soaked man (Evan Stern) in the middle of a country road (we had seen the man escaping earlier from a sinister house and a cruel murder scene). Carter takes the man to the local emergency room, conveniently staffed by Carter’s ex-wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe), two other nurses and Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh of Twin Peaks fame). Things take a bizarre turn, however, when two men burst into the hospital looking to kill the man Carter brought in, while outside the building is suddenly surrounded by frightening figures dressed in white robes.
The Void quickly ramps up the horror quotient from there, piling on well-worn tropes like reanimated corpses, a death cult, a portal to another dimension and Lovecraftian entities in a cinematic soup that plays like a blend of Re-Animator, The Beyond, Halloween 2 and The Gate. Writers/directors Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, a make-up artist and visual designer respectively who have made shorts and features with the Astron-6 film collective, throw pretty much everything at the wall here and surprisingly make it all stick, letting the thick atmosphere, sober tone and truly gonzo visuals carry the film even while their script doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
We’re never really sure what the cult and the portal and the monsters that start emerging out of bodies in the hospital all have to do with each other, and that is where The Void falls short of its ambitions to be an epic cosmic horror tale. But where the story lapses, the directors — clearly talented and headed for bigger fare — make up for it with swift, clean pacing and jaw-dropping practical gore and creature effects that are refreshingly visceral in these days when even bursts of blood are created via CG. One wishes that the editing was a bit slower in some scenes where it’s a bit hard to tell what is doing what to whom, but that may be due to budgetary limitations as well as directorial taste.
The Void never really pulls its overarching mythos together into a coherent whole, while at the same time giving our small and overmatched band of refugees too many connection points to not come across as a bit contrived. Nevertheless you still find yourself rooting for them to escape, with Poole giving a warm performance as a rather mild-mannered cop who must rise to a decidedly unprecedented challenge and the rest doing just enough to make you feel for their predicament. It’s also nice to see veterans like Welsh (who grappled with a portal as Windom Earle back in the Twin Peaks days) and ‘70s horror regular Art Hindle (The Brood, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) show up.
Kostanski and Gillespie pay homage to those golden years without resorting to cheap copycat tricks; as a result, fans will recognize The Void’s DNA but still appreciate its modern veneer. Its all-out deployment of so many horror devices may keep it from classic status, but it’s still a fast and furious 90 minutes of mayhem that embraces its genre with relish, respect and style.
The Void is out Friday (April 7) in select cities and through VOD.