Sunday, 2 April 2017

THE VOID - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Lovecraft/CronenbergStyleHorror meet Astron6Dudes

These dudes are not looking to burn crosses.

The Void (2017)
Dirs. Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski
Starring: Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh

Review By Greg Klymkiw

God knows all artists seek to move forward. I'm the last person to have a problem with this. Sometimes though, with even the best intentions, the runner stumbles.

With The Void, the brilliant Astron-6 dudes Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski have served up something altogether distinct from their previous work (Manborg, Father's Day). The results are a mixed bag o' nuts. This would be fine if the bag was replete with pecans instead of way too many hazel nuts, Brazil nuts, almonds and (ugh) walnuts. Well, these things happen sometimes.

It all depends on the dexterity of the Bulk Barn scooping.

Blending H.P. Lovecraft Cthulu-like shenanigans with Cronenberg-inspired body horror and a few 80s Lucio Fulci smatterings, The Void spins a gory yarn involving a local-yokel lawman (Aaron Poole) and a variety of medical personnel, patients and safety-seeking rednecks in a remote rural hospital on the eve of it being shut down forever (shades of Assault on Precinct 13 here). On one deep, dark night, a whack of creepy hooded figures (vaguely resembling KKK types) have surrounded the joint whilst inside, a creepy old Doctor (Kenneth Welsh) is unleashing some extremely ungodly results of his twisted experiments.

Yup, there are hooded psychos outside and monsters inside. And babes.

Sounds good to me.

The only problem, however, is that too much of the movie unfurls with humourless portent and though there are a few dollops of genuine suspense mixed with a cornucopia of grotesque practical creature F/X and more than a few rivers and splatters of glorious crimson, things settle into a been-there-done-that rhythm and this is certainly not the kind of by-rote playbook one expects from Messrs Gillespie and Kostanski. These guys have been responsible for some of the most original genre films of the past decade, but The Void offers too much treading on familiar turf.

That one of the patients in the hospital is a pregnant woman set to pop and that the lawman and his estranged wife (who is a nurse at the hospital) have a backstory involving a pregnancy gone wrong is kind of sickening. And it's not good sickening, but the "Oh God, not this again" kind of sickening.

One of the more annoying aspects of this Canadian film is that it goes out of its way to set itself in America (replete with stars and stripes flying on the flag outdoors and sheriff/State Trooper types), even though the movie's been shot in Northern Ontario and has received Canadian taxpayer dollars to partially finance it. There's absolutely no artistic grounds for this decision. It's not like the film explores any real political/social/cultural context and frankly, Northern Ontario is chockfull of its own brand of weirdness. Also, given the dire contemporary political situation in Canada (and rural Ontario in particular) with substandard public health, these are elements that could have cleverly fleshed out the familiar machinations of the plot and characters. These guys have already made movies set in plenty of magical never-never-lands. Here they're in a relatively naturalistic setting and no attempt is made to exploit the indigenous qualities of where the movie has actually been made.

There's also something a bit weird about the look of the movie. Maybe it was the DCP press-screened in advance of its theatrical release, but so much of the film was nicely shot with solid compositions and a fine lighting/colour palette, that when the action shifts to the dank, dark corners of the hospital, everything feels murky - not in a good way, either. It felt like there was something off with either the colour timing or the lighting. Given that The Void was shot by one of the country's best cinematographers this really made no sense. If anything, these sequences were begging for a controlled murkiness - deep rich blacks might have been ideal. It's a real head-scratcher, especially considering the visual aplomb of Gillespie/Kostanski's previous work.

Still, it's a horror movie. Are there scares? Yeah, a few. But given the pedigree of the filmmakers and a first-rate cast of terrific Canuck thespians, The Void feels curiously lacking. I could make a joke using the film's title, but I'll bite my tongue on that one.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-Half Stars

The Void plays in limited theatrical release via dFilms at the Royal Cinema in Toronto and will be available on iTunes on April 7, 2017.