July 28, 2020

A Brief Review of The Void (2016)

The Void

It has to be tough for a low-budget Canadian horror film that relied on crowdfunding to pay for its special effects to attract much attention, but that is exactly what The Void (2016) managed to do. After premiering in a couple of Canadian film festivals, it managed only a limited theatrical release in the United States in 2017. While it was profitable, it didn't exactly set the world on fire. Except for the world of horror fans, that is.

I recall hearing some buzz about The Void late in 2017, but it wasn't really until 2018 that it attracted my attention. I read a couple of positive reviews, and I remember being frustrated because it never played anywhere near me. At the time, I wasn't sure how I could even see it. I was not about to subscribe to some random streaming service just to see one film I didn't even know if I'd like. And so, I largely forgot about The Void until I saw it mentioned on Twitter recently. This prompted me to read a couple more reviews, and one thing caught my attention: it was described as reminding audiences of some 80s horror classics, including The Thing and Hellraiser. Since both of these are on my shortlist of horror favorites, I knew I needed to see it. When a brief investigation revealed that I could stream it through Amazon Prime for the low-low price of $.99, I had no excuse not to check it out.

The Void did not disappoint. In fact, I thought it was one of the better horror flicks I've seen in some time. It is also one of those films that will be enjoyed more the less you know about it going in. With that in mind, I'll say very little about the plot. A small-town sheriff encounters a man covered in blood and crawling on the side of a rural road at night. He transports the man to a small and mostly deserted hospital which is in the process of moving due to a fire. In fact, there are only a handful of people there. Some strange hooded figures show up outside to prevent anyone from leaving, and things go downhill quickly from there as we soon realize that this is no ordinary hospital.

The Void definitely seemed like a throwback to some 80s horror films but not in that annoyingly self-aware way that has become all-too-common. It took itself more seriously than that, and it had an almost fuzzy low-definition look to it that would have been more at home in the 80s. While it was nowhere near as good as The Thing, it was easy to see why it might remind audiences of that film. Unlike most modern horror films, it used excellent practical effects instead of CGI. This was very effective and something I hadn't realized how much I miss. I could understand the comparison to Hellraiser too, but really only for one scene toward the end. Fans of more serious 80s horror (rather than the horror-comedy crap) will probably like it. And yes, fans of H. P. Lovecraft will probably feel right at home with this one too. I mean, just look at the cover!

The Void was far from perfect, and it will be evident from the IMDB score that many viewers were less impressed. Most of the negative reviews I've seen have criticized the acting. I have two comments on that. First, I thought the casting was solid, with the exception of the main protagonist. He was fine, but I did not find him to be a particularly strong choice for the role. Second, while the acting was not stellar by any means, I thought it was a cut above what one typically finds in low-budget horror. I do not recall any scenes where things fell apart to the point that bad acting took me out of the film. That may be a low bar, but I think it is a fair one for evaluating this sort of film.

I suppose another criticism could be that the director found it necessary to cutaway to a few random images that were never explained and didn't seem to contribute much to the story. This did not really bother me, as it gave the film an almost dreamlike quality and helped place it in a more "Lovecraftian" universe. I could imagine others not liking it.

Overall, this is an easy one to recommend to fans of more serious 80s horror, Lovecraft fans, or horror fans who really miss good practical effects. My guess is that some of the really bad reviews may have come from younger viewers who like their CGI effects and expect their horror to be more polished than this was or those who were never really fans of 80s horror. It is hard to imagine that they would appreciate this one like I did.

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