“The Void” Film Review
Young Canadian Filmmakers Perfectly Balance Visceral Horror and Suspense
By Paul Edward Costa
*Disclaimer: I viewed this movie on Friday October 21st, the last night of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. The directors both introduced the film and participated in a cast Q&A afterwards. While one director/writer, Steve Kostanski, is the cousin of my long-time friend Stephen Bodner, I had never formally met Mr. Kostanski until just before the screening, and as such, I don’t believe myself biased in any way, although this personal connection should be made clear for the sake of journalistic integrity.
On Friday, October 21st, the 2016 edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival wrapped up with a screening of an excellent new Canadian-made horror film titled “The Void” by directors Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie at the Scotiabank Theater (1). This movie is ideal for any fans of films like The Fly, The Thing, Event Horizon, The Strangers, Hellraiser, or the works of H.P. Lovecraft (but not the racist parts). An impressive fact to also note is how this movie was partially funded through online fundraising, although no part if it ever looks “cheap” or “amateur”. If I had known nothing about the movie at all before going into the theatre I’d have bought it as a major studio production.
As with most horror films, it’s best to know very little before seeing this movie, and, if the producer spoke true during the Q&A session, you will all hopefully have a chance to see this work in wider release soon. With that said, The Void generally concerns a police officer who takes a bloodied man he finds on the highway to a nearly closed hospital, one which then comes under siege from the terror of robed figures outside (like a horror version of another John Carpenter film−Assault on Precinct 13) and a mysterious supernatural horror inside.
One of The Void’s main strengths lies in its use of practical effects over CGI, or even no effects (like the first Paranormal Activity or the Blair Witch Project). This method has at least part of its genesis in Mr. Kostanski’s early years working with claymation. To describe the creatures in any detail would be a spoiler for the reader, but they are all impressively brought to life on screen by skilled, creative craftsmanship, strategic lighting, and effective camera angles. Viewing this movie brought to mind the following quote by John Carpenter (in reference to The Thing):
“Stephen King once told me ‘look…the clichés in Hollywood are that you keep every monster in the dark, you never see the face of the devil, don’t ever show it, however, if you can come up with something that is so astonishing-looking on screen, you’ll hit a homerun out of the park.’” (2)
Indeed there is a feast of astonishing and practical visuals which the audience does see, but what is impressive is how much restraint the filmmakers show when it comes to showing the design of their monstrosities. It would be easy for them to want to show their creations in full visibility, for it clearly took an intense amount of labor to create them, but the crew went for a different approach. Monstrosities are often shadowed by dark corridors and flickering lights; the camera never dwells on them for long during intense scenes. While there is much in this movie for fans of visceral horror, the presence of such content serves to make that which isn’t shown even more chilling, as if the filmmakers are rhetorically saying “if we showed you all that, can you imagine the things we didn’t show?” Even in shots where no horrific threats are present, the lighting of the broken-down hospital often creates an artistically haunting atmosphere.
The second strength of The Void is its acting. An interviewer once asked Ethan Hawke why serious actors often avoid genre/horror films, and Hawke said the following:
“I think actors don’t like to play fear; when you think about it, almost every emotion−anger, hurt, vulnerability, frustration, passion−all this stuff is kind of sexy, but it’s not sexy to play scared, nobody wants to be scared, so to actually play an emotion that a) is not appealing and b) doesn’t feel good is part of why all those people [actors] don’t want to play it.” (3)
In the case of a movie largely based on practical effects, the film in question will only be as effective as the reactions actors have to those practical effects, and The Void does this extremely well. There are more established actors in this film like Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, James Millington, and Art Hindle alongside younger actors such as Aaron Poole, Ellen Wong, and Kathleen Munroe. Every actor sells the fear and desperation they feel convincingly to the audience, and even one actor delivers a dynamic performance with his physicality despite his character’s muteness (a result of an injury on his character’s neck) (4).
The sound design of the movie is also effective, as is the music (by Toronto Based Trio “Blitz//Berlin”) which does not feel like it came from a canned or standard “horror soundtrack CD”. There are also very clever uses of silence in the movie. During one key scene later on, the lack of any sound adds to the weight of the action the character takes.
Mr. Kostanski and Mr. Gillespie’s comfort with the unknown also deserves respect and acknowledgement. While enough information is given during the movie’s runtime to not leave audiences completely confused, there are enough questions left unanswered so as to keep the audience’s imagination engaged even after the credits roll (but the film still feels complete; I didn’t get the feeling that content was left out just to tease or manipulate the audience). During the Q&A after the film, Mr. Kostanski spoke about the need for an “incomplete mythology”−one which is hinted at but not fully revealed. This is the element that often makes the first film in a horror franchise the most fresh, while the sequels which explore the hinted-at mythology feel increasingly stale. Further, Mr. Gillespie spoke about his admiration for Thomas Ligotti (a favorite author of mine) whose strange, terrifying visions are made more effective because of how impossible it is to comprehend their nature. H.P. Lovecraft’s stories “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Call of Cthullu” best illustrate this method.
While most films made by young directors on a limited budget follow the above-mentioned “hinting” technique to the letter, The Void takes a bold step by using its (extremely limited) CGI to, on occasion, ambitiously show some things that are hinted at, but which many directors would keep hidden. This gives the movie a unique duality. The Void’s characters endure personal, intimate, and small conflicts which juxtapose intriguingly with grand, cosmic terrors that audiences don’t often see any more on the silver screen (although horror fiction still does this with some regularity).
My only critiques of the film are largely nit-picky, or are because of recent scriptwriting trends that are not the fault of the cast and crew. There is a shot towards the end that, in terms of camera angle, blocking, context, and the relationship between the characters on screen, feels like a too-direct homage to another well-known film ending from the 1990s (revealing which one risks spoiling the end of The Void). There is also an eventually-revealed source of tension between two characters that audiences will likely guess before they are told. This is because it is becoming the go-to source of tension between certain pairs of characters in modern television, literature, and film. However, in the case of The Void, this cause of tension, while overdone in recent media, still works because it fits and feels necessary in the broader context of the script.
The positives of Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s The Void far outweigh any negatives in the film. It is well-acted, well-shot, well-directed, well-designed, and-well conceptualized. This movie pays respect to the films of its genre which have come before while still feeling original because it brings back elements of horror that have been forgotten by recent filmmakers (such as bold practical effects and a cosmic notion of terror) in such a way that its points to a new path for future horror movies. I hope you all get the opportunity to experience this feature film in a wider release in the near future.
- Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments-The Thing
- John Carpenter quote – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwuYp5TkomA
- Ethan Hawke Interview for Sinister – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2kpasJMsZU
- The Void’s IMDB Page (Featuring Cast List) – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4255304/
Paul Edward Costa is a writer and spoken word performer who has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in “Timber Journal”, “Entropy”, “Thrice Fiction”, “Emerge Literary Journal”, “The J.J. Outre Review”, “The Eunoia Review”, “The Bramptonist”, “Alien Mouth”, “REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters” and others. He has work forthcoming in “Mannequin Haus”, “Literary Orphans”, and “Bonk!” He is the founder of the ongoing “Paul’s Poetry Night” spoken word series in the Greater Toronto Area. His areas of interest are illusion/reality, minimalism, surrealism, genre fiction, weird fiction, the grotesque, and the absurd. At York University Paul earned a Specialized Honors BA in History and a BA in Education. He is also a high school English teacher with the Peel District School Board.