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Fantastic Fest 2016: “THE VOID” (Film Review)

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Going into Fantastic Fest 2016, THE VOID was easily my most anticipated premiere of the festival. I’ve been a long-time fan of co-writers/directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski from their work with filmmaking collective Astron-6. FATHER’S DAY and MANBORG are among this writer’s favorite films in recent memory. I pull up the LAZER GHOSTS 2 and BIO-COP shorts in an attempt to indoctrinate newcomers on a regular basis. So a chance to see what some of these talents could bring to the realm of sincere horror films was immediately appealing to me. I contributed to the Indiegogo campaign; I’ve got the t-shirt, the poster, etc. All this to say: I walked into the premiere with lofty expectations.

The film follows the night of a small-town cop who comes across a seemingly injured stranger and rushes him to the local hospital. From there, the story amps up rapidly as a series of bizarre horrors unfold and violent men with mysterious motives converge on the hospital, putting the overnight staff and Officer Carter in the middle of a terrifying fight for survival.

To reveal much more of the plot is, in my opinion, to spoil some of the journey. THE VOID presents a half-dozen mysteries in its first half-hour, and unraveling those threads is a part of what makes the viewing experience so compelling. Officer Carter’s night starts bloody and quickly becomes almost overwhelmingly surreal, and horrifically violent. From there, the situation escalates (or descends, I suppose), and the viewer feels some semblance of what Carter does. Primal, ancient forces are at work in the bowels of this small-town hospital. Lovecraftian horror that disorients with a vicious nightmare logic.

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The practical effects in the film deserve the highest praise. That these beautiful, haunting visuals were created sometime between the Indiegogo campaign and now is baffling to me. The creatures are at once disturbing and iconic. Apparently over 80 gallons of fake blood were used when shooting, and most if that appears to have ended up on-screen, including what must be one of the most traumatic birth scenes in cinema. There are glistening skeins of tentacles, gnashing teeth, and hulking monstrosities throughout. And best of all, the practical effects are not obscured, not glimpsed partially through a flashing light or a shaky handicam. They’re showcased front and center, with the confidence of a team that knows their monsters have more weight and impact than the myriad CGI scares that have become the standard in modern horror.

That confidence permeates THE VOID, and may be its strongest quality. THE VOID isn’t a film that holds your hand. It isn’t shot through with expository monologues to make sure nothing goes over your head. It isn’t concerned with making sure you know more about the story than the characters experiencing it. But (and this is crucial) it never feels like the filmmakers themselves are unaware of the finer aspects of the mythology they’ve built. The film commits, wholeheartedly, to that mythology. It builds a dense, convincing vision of hell on earth with style and ease.

Earlier, I likened the film to a nightmare, and it is similarly experiential. It washes over you, and when you wake up, you want to explain the dream to a friend, but it’s just not the same. THE VOID is a movie that, for this viewer, demands multiple viewings. Already, I can’t wait for the chance to rewatch it, to learn more about the inner workings of this hellscape, to gape further at the creature effects, to make sense of the nightmare. I went into THE VOID with high expectations, and this writer is pleased to say it exceeded them.

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About the author
Elijah Taylor
Elijah Taylor used to own a chain of video game stores in Denver, Colorado. Now he works with Laser Party, a poster printing collective, and travels the world, eating, fighting, and attending film festivals.
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