Horror movies are a strange beast to try to tackle. Their audience will never be as big as the latest blockbuster, their attendance tends to die off quickly and because of how cheap they are to churn out, a disproportionate number of them are damn near unwatchable. You have to wade through a lot of dreck to make the genre worth your while, but if you do, they are some of the most rewarding and original movies being made today.
So many great horror movies fail to get noticed by even the niche audiences they aim to please. Although now recognized as one of the better horror films of the last decade, Trick ‘r Treat went unrecognized for years because it was released strait-to-video, where positive word of mouth gradually got people to see it. Hush, one of the best movies in any genre from last year, was released straight to Netflix and still doesn’t have a physical release. This overlooked company now has another esteemed (but underseen) member to add to its ranks: The Void.
I can’t blame anybody for not having heard of this movie. Its perplexing released seemingly tried to split the difference between traditional theatrical distribution and the more economical straight-to-DVD route. This crowd-funded indie horror film was initially released in a paltry 31 theaters in early April and was quickly thrown out on DVD a month later.
The film opens as a junkie escapes from an ominous compound in the woods, courtesy of a couple of roughnecks shooting the place up. They torch the bodies and chase after the one that got away, who stumbles into a small town sheriff out on patrol. The lawman races him to the local hospital, but things take a dark turn shortly after he arrives.
White-cloaked cultists surround the hospital. While they make no attempt to storm the building, they violently resist any attempt of those inside from escaping. And when bodies start lurching back to life as Cronenbergian horrors, it becomes clear that something dark and ancient is lurking at the heart of the hospital, desperate for new victims.
To be clear, The Void is not the kind of slickly-produced, professionally-made film that we’ve long since gotten used to as the Hollywood standard. Although impressive sum for a crowd-funding campaign, $82,000 is a virtual non-sum to make a movie with: even legendarily low-budget movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th had far bigger piles of cash to play with.
The Void is essentially a high-end fan film: the kind of low-end schlock that you’d hope to make with a couple buddies during the summer with your dad’s old camera and a spare VHS tape. The filmmakers who put this on screen are more ambitious than experienced, learning their craft by watching movies rather than making them.
The actors fail as often as they succeed at bringing their characters to life. The sets are dimly lit more out of necessity than desire: hoping to mask the telltale signs that their monsters are just impressive, if cheaply made, prosthetics. The script really only makes about as much sense as it strictly needs to in order to move from one grotesque set piece to another.
Despite these obvious shortcomings, the movie pulls off something that even professionally made horror movies often fail to: create a genuine and pervasive sense of dread, from the first scene to the last. The physical effects used to bring forth everything from hair-raising horrors to merely Human threats are genuinely impressive to see and used to great effect throughout the film. While the script doesn’t make the most sense on first viewing, carefully peppered details and a larger, implied cosmology rewards and encourages revisiting it multiple times.
What’s more is that The Void is a particular kind of horror movie that we just don’t see all that often. This isn’t a slasher or zombie flick, which can be made with a few knives and some fake blood. It’s cosmic horror in the vein of the Cthulhu Mythos and the Hellraiser series. It pits man against the cosmic forces of a malevolent universe and shows just how insignificant and powerless he is.
If you can stomach a sometimes-amateurish production that shows its budget on its sleeve, you will not find a better horror movie this year. I have every confidence that, despite squaring off against the likes of It and Friday the 13th, we’ll still be talking about The Void long after those higher-profile films have run their course.
Buy on BluRay: Absolutely!