Void, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/07/17 14:06:12
SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 19: Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski haven’t made a whole lot of movies as part of the Astron-6 collective, and I haven’t reviewed all of them, but it still feels like I’ve written something about how wasteful it is that they didn’t seem to trust their very real talent, using parody as a crutch. While "The Void" does not have an A-6 title card on it, it was done by many of the same people, but it’s a straight horror movie, and it’s a terrific one, distilling what made the 1980s horror they clearly love great and presenting it as something that doesn’t feel dated or silly at all.It’s got a nifty little twist at the start, though, as it opens with a couple of folks fleeing a cabin in the woods and not looking back. Unfortunately, James (Evan Stern) isn’t in good shape when local cop Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) finds him by the side of the road. He brings the unconscious man to the nearby hospital, where his ex-wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) and her mentor Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh) are the only doctors on duty, but there aren’t many patients, as much of the staff is packing up to close the place and consolidate with another hospital. Of course, people start getting homicidal, with the heavily-armed Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and his mute sidekick Simon (Mik Byskov) arriving just as the parking lot fills with a bunch of robed cultists, setting up a supernatural siege.
Those robes and hoods are a simple costume, but the perfection of their execution is impressive; the triangle where the face should be is the sort of material that should allow the man inside to see out, except that it’s inverted so that the point is between the eyes. It looks wrong, but doesn’t broadcast how impractical it is, and the simple shape can be reused in a lot of ways, tying a number of supernatural elements together without it seeming forced. Not everything in the movie is low-key and geometrical like that, but it’s a good start and a good link to the weirder, gorier stuff, with the blood and the tendrils and the other abominations before nature. That stuff is especially excellent, top-notch practical work, with the obsessive visual detail that this team is best known for (paired with a great sound mix and thoroughly-appropriate score) in full force.
But, while the style evokes the sort of film they would previously approach with a wink and a nod, they’re playing things mostly straight here, and they prove that they don’t need to push things to arm’s length. Although there are bits of the movie where they and editor Cam McLauchlin cut things fine enough that certain bits of explanation pass a little too quickly, the important things are clear. Meanwhile, they do a great job of ratcheting the tension and strangeness up even as they keep things tethered to something the audience can relate to. They do a great reversal, too, and stage both action and thrills that come from small things like cultists subtly floating in the background.
And though this is a serious horror movie, it’s not entirely grim and dour. One of the best routes to making a good thriller is building a good ensemble, the sort that could work in a non-genre comedy or drama, and then making it hurt as they’re taken out. That’s a large part of what makes The Void hum; from the first time we see Carter bantering with his dispatcher, the audience gets a sense of place and community and connection from the way everybody seems to know each other and plays off one another. It’s especially good with Aaron Poole and Kathleen Munroe, who show the strain on Daniel’s and Allison’s marriage without making it the whole point of every scene they have together; there’s a sense of them being a good pair. They’re surrounded by other enjoyable players, too, from Kenneth Welsh’s paternal physician to Ellen Wong’s young, sarcastic intern.I’ve never disliked the films that these filmmakers have done - I was actually quite fond of "The Editor" - although I always wanted more of the parts where they were just doing something well rather than the ones where they had a laugh at how that thing was often done badly. "The Void" is perhaps the first time they have spent all their time just doing those things, and it shows that they’re worth taking seriously.
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