Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hospital Hell: "The Void" an insanely fun mishmash of everything nightmarish

The Void (2017)
90 min., not rated (equivalent of an R).

“The Void” ends up as a different movie than what it is at the start, and that’s a compliment to Canadian film production company collectively known as Astron-6. Written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski (the former being one of Astron-6’s founders and the latter an equal partner), the film is good for what it is: a cool, gleefully whacked-out genre grab-bag of 1976’s “Assault on Precinct 13,” 1982’s “The Thing,” 1987’s “Hellraiser,” and even a little of 2016’s “Baskin.” There are so many signs of influence that even if the parts aren’t anything original, how they form an '80s-inspired B-movie throwback whole is mighty crafty.

Out on an ordinary nightly patrol on the side of a back road, small-town police officer Danny Carter (Aaron Poole) witnesses a bloodied guy (Evan Stern) stumbling out of the woods. He immediately brings him to Marsh County Memorial Hospital, where Carter’s estranged nurse wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe) is working the night shift. After a nurse kills one of the patients, Carter and Allison, along with several others—Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh), medical intern Kim (Ellen Wong), a pregnant young woman (Grace Munro) in the waiting room with her grandfather (James Millington), and the shotgun-toting Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and the mute Simon (Mik Byskov)—must also evade a threatening group of knife-wielding, horn-blowing, white-cloaked figures lurking outside. Tension rises inside with the clashing personalities and then members in the band of survivors start rampantly morphing into something else. Little do they know that an entrance to Hell is closer to them than they think.

A cosmic siege thriller/sci-fi/cult-horror mishmash turned up to eleven and borrowing around from John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and Clive Barker, “The Void” is taut, bonkers, frequently freaky, and complete with an edgy, foreboding synth-heavy score by Blitz//Berlin. Delivered through punchy resourcefulness and spectacularly icky, creepy-crawly prosthetics and practical creature effects, the film has gore and splatter out the wazoo. At the same time, co-directors Gillespie and Kostanski show just enough of the tentacled, Lovecraftian monsters at first with savvy use of lighting and cinematography, as not to spoil the goods too soon. Enough of the imagery is the stuff nightmares are made of, particularly a simple, albeit creepy-as-hell, shot of the hooded disciples standing together outside the hospital, lit by a red police strobe light.

If the viewer gradually learns about the sufficiently drawn characters and their relationships as the film goes along, one discovers what they’re up against at the same speed, too, and never knowing where it’s going is a bona fide asset. Aaron Poole, as Carter, might be the closest to a lead, and the performances are decent across the board; Ellen Wong (who was so disarming and sprightly in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) is fun to see again as flippant nurse-in-training Kim. Its reach may exceed its grasp in the end, but for the right audience that is so inclined, “The Void” is an unbridled gateway into the demented, schlocky, and perverse. It’s absolutely willing to reach far-flung nuttiness without ever going beyond its modest budgetary constraints. What can separate a purely unpleasant film and a gory, gnarly one is a sense of raving fun, and pastiche or not, this one is insanely fun.


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