The Void (2017)

By Patrick Feutz

Drenched in grief and parental anxiety, miniature siege horror movie The Void comes with a healthy pedigree thanks to the writing and directing team of Jeremie Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, who join the '80s pop culture gold rush and stumble out of the mine clutching every Lovecraftian antecedent from John Carpenter to Stuart Gordon to piece together their movie. Thankfully they have a framework back at the shop, so what could have come across as a crass pastiche is instead a satisfyingly arranged original story that hopscotches its influences, recalling the spirit of its predecessors without trafficking in clunky aural and tangible nostalgia. Despite its residence in some indefinite cell phone-free period of the past, this is still a very modern movie. To put it bluntly, its under-reliance on a Steadicam might have some purists fuming. If you're looking for its closest cinematic double, you might go with the Fulci gore fest From Beyond, with its faceless revenants, desolate netherworld, and a narrative that slowly caves into the surreal as its beleaguered protagonist's subconscious starts bleeding in.

A cold open introduces us to a couple men clearing out an isolated farmhouse of its inhabitants, gunning down and torching their last catch as one man escapes into the woods. Moments later, bored police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) comes across the lone survivor, fallen unconscious in the road, and takes him to the nearest hospital, where a night shift skeleton crew is shutting things down for good in the aftermath of a fire that's condemned the building. Things soon get weirder and weirder from the inside out (or is that outside in?), as the staff inside begin to lose their minds concurrently with the ominous blow of a mysterious foghorn and a group of white-robed cultists surrounding the building to prevent anyone from getting out.

Gillespie and Kostanski keep things interesting by piling on the mysteries, making you guess where the next threat is going to come from. Will the cultists make a move, is the hysterical survivor hiding something, or is someone else in the group going to reveal some unknown hidden depth? Carter stays at center ring for the whole film, and his haunted past, tied to that of his estranged wife, Allison (Kathleen Munroe), who just so happens to be head nurse that night, gives focus to the darker things to come, which serves to deliver a big emotional punch once the titular void is breached. Gillespie and Kostanski go for more than cheap shots, knowing the importance of burrowing into the audience's everyday fears, then blowing them up in garish, borderline insane fashion. It may not be the freshest fear for movies to mine in recent times, but they still tackle it with gusto.

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It helps that their cast of maybe-seen-um's, including The Brood's Art Hindle, whose presence further demonstrates the film's relatively coy approach to honoring its predecessors, commit so confidently to roles that could easily tip over into stereotype. The script may call for one too many standoffs of characters holding out their arms and babbling peace treaties before moving on to vague threats or intonations of coming disaster, but these structural redundancies are made up for by bouncing the characters off one another in unexpected ways and keeping the story moving fast. Then there's the gore. Those who know Gillespie and Kostanski by reputation may not be prepared for the adult tone they take this time around, but the quality - if not so much the quantity - of their grotesque creations are on par with their previous output in bonkers '80s parodies like fake trailer Lazer Ghosts 2: Return to Laser Cove or the feature-length Manborg. Then to find that the body horror is only the tip of the iceberg is just another thrill this co-writing and directing pair of pop culture trash compactors build into their film, suggesting that The Void is an entirely different animal, and which could serve as a breakout for the pair.

Predictable entertainment is the least of your worries with The Void. Spinning gold out of a meager stack of hay, Gillespie and Kostanski put a twist on their own material and refresh the palates of those who’ve grown bored of the latest crop of glowering, cheap-o straight-to-Netflix horror movies that lack the creativity and genuine love for the material that these two bring. Like a distant foghorn in the middle of the night, this film will give you a sudden chill and the promise of something bigger, and hopefully scarier, to come from these two.

The Void is screening in the UICA Movie Theater Apr 7 – Apr 20, 2017.