John Carpenter hasn’t released a feature film in seven years, but nevertheless, he’s been all over the screen lately. You can see his visual influence in the suburban panoramas of It Follows and in the decrepit dystopian cityscapes of The Purge: Anarchy; hear his signature synth arrangements influencing the soundtracks of Cold in July and Netflix’s “Stranger Things;” and feel his very essence in films like The Guest, Green Room, The Hateful Eight and Midnight Special. Rather than let everyone else have all the fun, Winnipeg filmmakers Jeremy Gillepsie and Steven Kostanski—members of the filmmaking collective Astron-6—deliver The Void, a fantasy-horror bloodbath and perhaps the Carpenter homage to end all Carpenter homages. While not an altogether unpleasant experience, The Void is familiar enough to stir up feelings of impatience and ambivalence, and rather than consider the intricacies of its clever plot or reflect on the film’s themes of identity and group dynamics, you’re more likely to question why you didn’t simply watch your favorite Carpenter movie instead.

Where other Carpenter acolytes have favored the director’s methodical pace and slow-burn tendencies, Gillepsie and Kostanski dive right into the action: On an isolated farm, deep in some dark woods, a terrified couple are chased by a pair of gun-toting bad guys. The girl is mowed down and subsequently set on fire (!), but the guy manages to escape, stumbling across an aloof local cop, Dan Carter (Aaron Poole), who’s parked on a dirt road. When he sees the guy is bruised and bloody and unresponsive, Dan rushes him to the small local hospital, where we’ll spend the rest of our time and meet our extended cast of characters: nurses Beverly (Stephanie Belding) and Allison (Kathleen Munroe), who’s also Dan’s ex-wife; senior staffer Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh); Kim (Ellen Wong), a ne’er-do-well intern; and an assortment of patients, including the pregnant Maggie (Grace Munro). Dan’s arrival spurs a series of horrific events, including violent psychotic breakdowns, an monstrous creature that threatens to devour everybody in sight and the arrival of hooded, knife-wielding cult members that surround the hospital, preventing escape.

Each major plot point and character detail has a direct connection to a well-known Carpenter work, from the isolated group attempting to survive within and hopefully escape from a single location (Assault on Precinct 13) to the evil entity that uses the human body as a host (The Thing) to the blank evil of the murderous cult members (Halloween). Despite the film’s manic pace and inspired set pieces, including a truly chilling moment between a nurse, a patient and one very sharp knife, it’s bogged down by the plethora of references. Even when the filmmakers attempt a pivot around the halfway point, introducing an intriguing cosmic scenario that widens the story’s supernatural scope, its roots can easily be traced to Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, itself an homage to the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft, it should be noted, is also a major influence here, alongside Clive Baker, Lucio Fulci and George Romero, as well as a plethora of ’80s Canadian horror films. The filmmakers’ genre literacy is impressive, and they clearly “get” Carpenter, but no amount of cultural expertise can substitute novel thought.

Which isn’t to say that The Void fails to satisfy, or that it lacks originality. The film’s overall look has an impressive celluloid-by-way-of-digital grain, standing head-and-shoulders above a recent spate of low-budget indies that aspire to a “vintage” style, and the atmosphere is thick, sweaty and menacing throughout. The performances, though ineffective to begin (Poole is utterly unconvincing as the hero cop, and Munro seems out of place as a bedridden expectant mother), gain a unique context as the film unfolds. The Void manages to locate an emotional entryway just as the story’s fantastical elements reach their most elaborate ends, eventually emerging as a sympathetic and oddly touching exploration of grief, the insurmountable loss of loved ones and the importance of moving forward in life. But considering how eager Gillepsie and Kostanski are to dig up the past, they’d surely benefit from taking their own advice.

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