Our Netflix double-header today consists of two rather different films, one Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and one that trades in more intimate, folkloric terrors, though both have a retro kinda vibe and share something of a siege-type narrative.
First up, 2016’s The Void, a Canadian film written and directed by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie, and largely funded through a successful Indiegogo campaign. Like a great many recent indie horror flicks, it has a heavy 1980s influence, both in its use of delightfully splattery practical effects, and the sheer amount of 80s-era horror touchstones it references. It seems as though it might also be set in the 80s, judging by the lack of cell phones and the models of the cars, but the year is not obviously mentioned, or even particularly important to the story.
The Void begins with a woman running out of a house with two armed men in pursuit. The men shoot the woman in the back, but another man who has also come running out of the house manages to avoid being killed, and takes off into the surrounding woods. The two shooters then rather casually set the dying woman at their feet on fire.
Cut to the main character, small-town police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole), who later sees the wounded man crawling out of the woods and hurries to help him. He takes the man, whose name is James (Evan Stern) to a nearby hospital, which only has a skeleton staff due to a fire that broke out there recently. The few remaining staff are going to be moved to another hospital soon, but are stuck at this nearly empty backwater for the time being.
The only other people at the hospital are nurse Allison (Kathleen Munroe), who also happens to be Daniel’s ex-wife, another nurse named Beverly (Stephanie Belding), a trainee named Kim (Ellen Wong), the elderly Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh), a patient named Cliff (Matt Kennedy), and in the waiting room, a pregnant girl named Maggie (Grace Munro) and her grandfather Ben (James Millington).
Not long after Daniel brings James in have him looked at, things start to get decidedly strange. Beverly appears to go into some kind of trance in which she kills Cliff with a scalpel, and then cuts the skin off her own face. A state trooper named Mitchell (Art Hindle) arrives, looking for James, as he’s investigating a “bloodbath” out at the house we saw at the beginning. Suddenly none of the phones seem to be able to reach the outside world, and when Daniel goes outside to try the radio in his patrol car, that doesn’t work either. Even worse, he’s set upon by a creepy-looking person in a white full-body burka type outfit, with a black triangle over the face. Seemingly before he can blink, the hospital is surrounded by these eerie figures, who seem to have been summoned by a weird horn-like noise coming from the sky.
Back in the hospital, the group have discovered that erstwhile nurse Beverly has turned into some kind of tentacled monster. The two shooters from the first scene, Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and his son Simon (Mik Byskov) arrive in order to finish off the job they started, i.e. to kill James. They seem to know about the people transforming into monsters, but not much else, though it seems they aren’t taking any chances.
After this, the movie takes on the feel of a siege flick akin to The Mist, with the protagonists trapped inside the hospital by the white-robed cultists, and also uneasy about the people they’re locked in the building with, who could turn into Lovecraftian murder-critters at any moment.
Throughout the movie, Daniel has been having visions of a vast, featureless void in which a massive black pyramid looms on the horizon. As the story goes on, we learn that this is indeed another dimension, and that, much like in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, someone has figured out how to access it in order to further his own goals. The culprit is — spoiler alert — the nefarious Dr. Powell, who it turns out had been experimenting with opening the door to the void for some time, because he believed it would not only help him to become immortal, but also bring his beloved daughter Sarah back from the dead. Later in the film, the remaining characters stumble across a weird sub-basement that isn’t supposed to be there which contains all kinds of malformed human horrors, which are presumably Dr. Powell’s failed experiments that he keeps around for shits and giggles. The fire that ravaged the hospital was also Dr. Powell’s doing, as he lurked around down there, tampering in God’s domain and what not.
It also comes to pass that the pregnant Maggie was actually knocked up by Dr. Powell himself, and that her baby is going to serve as the conduit for the return of Sarah. Daniel’s ex-wife Allison is also transformed into a baby-maker for the hell-dimension, a fact made doubly poignant by the fact that she and Daniel broke up after she had a miscarriage.
At the end, after pretty much everyone dies, a skinless Dr. Powell tells Daniel that he can have Allison and his dead child back if he accepts death, and he says okay, but then he tackles Dr. No-Flesh and they both fall into the void. At the end, Daniel and Allison are shown standing alone in the void from his earlier visions, with no one else in sight.
As indie horror films go, this one was pretty damn ambitious, and even if it wasn’t a perfect film, it was actually quite impressive. It played like something of a mashup between Hellraiser, The Mist, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, with a huge heaping helping of H.P. Lovecraft tossed in for good measure, though I have to say that the plot, such as it is, was sort of hard to follow. But while the exact nature of the cult surrounding the void, and the exact endgame of what Dr. Powell was up to, were left fairly unclear, the movie more than made up for its failure to explain itself by being an entertaining, decently-paced flick with some absolutely stellar gore and creature effects. Though it’s obviously a pastiche of a bunch of different 80s horror classics, it never really feels like a retread, and has its own original vibe going on. Recommended for fans of 80s cosmic horror in the vein of John Carpenter or Stuart Gordon.
Next we travel to a remote forest in Ireland for The Hallow (formerly called The Woods), which had its premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Corin Hardy, The Hallow is far more straightforward than The Void was, being essentially nothing more than a simple “family in a secluded farmhouse attacked by creatures” flick. In fact, picture The Evil Dead but without the humor or wackiness and with evil Irish fairies instead of demons and rapey trees, and you’re most of the way there.
The movie follows Adam (Joseph Mawle from Game of Thrones), his wife Claire (Bojana Novakovic), and their baby son Finn as they move out to a spooky and run-down farmhouse in the Irish wilderness. Adam is a conservationist/tree scientist who has been sent out there to assess the trees that are going to be cut down for some pending development, and as such, he’s not a big hit with the locals, who not only don’t want the forest that provides some of their livelihood cut down, but also don’t want the creepy beasties who live in said woods to get pissed off and start coming out to steal babies. Particularly antagonistic is neighbor Colm Donnelly (Michael McElhatton), who repeatedly turns up at the family’s house to threaten them about the dangers of the creatures in the woods.
Skeptical Adam is having none of this mythological nonsense, but even he has to admit that there is something weird going on in those woods. Something flies through a window of the house one night, he sees hints of unidentified animals lurking among the trees, and the area seems to be pervaded with a strange black goo that, upon scientific scrutiny, resembles a fungus that can infiltrate the nervous system of the host organism and influence its behavior.
After Adam and Finn are attacked in their car by a creature which is never shown but leaves an alarmingly huge claw mark across the driver’s side door, Claire begins to think they had better leave, but naturally, Adam refuses to be intimidated by what he believes are malicious pranks engineered by the locals. But from then on, the situation gets worse and worse, as Adam is taken over by the fungus, and the baby Finn is taken by the creatures. This was actually my favorite part of the film, when the gooey monsters made off with the baby, Claire gave chase and rescued the baby from a swamp, then returned to the house only to have the partially possessed Adam insist that the baby wasn’t really Finn, but a changeling. There was a lot of delicious tension as the audience was left to wonder whether the baby really had been replaced or whether the fungus was making Adam see it that way.
All in all, I found this a fairly enjoyable but not super compelling flick. It had some great gore and practical effects (including lots of Fulci-esque eye trauma, always a plus), and a few scenes of effective creepiness, but I felt like I wasn’t involved enough with the characters to really be rooting for them, so the whole thing felt slightly flat for me. Also, while I liked the overall concept of it, I felt like it could have been given more of a distinctive flair based around the Irish folklore, as it really just kinda came off as a run-of-the-mill cabin-in-the-woods type movie, albeit one that was slightly elevated by the acting and the eerie setting and look of the monsters. Fun fact: The movie was actually originally pitched as Straw Dogs meets Pan’s Labyrinth, which…just…no. I can sorta see where they were heading with that, but still. Not even close. Actually, now that I think of it, if it had been more like Pan’s Labyrinth it probably would have ruled.
In the movie’s defense, though, I watched it when I was really, really tired, so my exhaustion might have clouded my judgment and made me more impatient and disengaged with it than I would normally be, so if an Irish fairy-tale take on The Evil Dead sounds like your pint of Guinness, then by all means, give it a spin.
That’s all for now, so until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.