When practical effects drive a film’s talking points, I pause. Gruesome monster designs and caved-in prosthetics merely supplement story, yet a film like Harbinger Down piles all its eggs into one blood-soaked basket. Fans yearn for realistic SFX, and filmmakers always aim to dethrone The Thing‘s bar-setting kingship. But at what cost? Take Astron-6’s The Void. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski create Lovecraftian hellbeasts from synthetic molding, yet a cultist presence could have used more fleshing out. Bodies splatter, character structures crumble and visuals outweigh storytelling.
Good thing the ratio of destruction:emptiness airs on the side of insanity.
In this Assault On Precinct 13 meets The Beyond smashup, police officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) walks into the wrong hospital. Given his bloodied passenger, he doesn’t have much of a choice – but white-hooded strangers who lurk outside aren’t noticed until far too late. Carter, Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh), nurse Kim (Ellen Wong) and other late-night workers find themselves trapped, unaware of the evils that await. Well, maybe they’re tuned-in when Beverly (Stephanie Belding) murders a patient at random? That’s only the beginning, though. Carter is about to come face to face with Hell on Earth, and it’s one nasty descent.
Plotting doesn’t remain constantly mindful of detail – as you can tell from my limited description above – but commitment to serious genre tones keep Gillespie and Kostanski chopping forward. This isn’t Manborg or The Editor (previous efforts from these crazy Astron-6 Canucks). Dare I even put The Void in a class shared by Re-Animator or other Stuart Gordon oddities? Carter’s hospital defense is drenched in midnight madness that’s not of Astron-6’s till-this-point signature antics. Hats are thrown into a more “serious” than silly narrative ring, despite slaughterhouse purgatory scenes and hulking undead attackers. So, the biggest question – does it work?
With maturity comes restraint, artistry and a slow boil to an explosive practical finale. Gillespie and Kostanski tease wavy tentacle tubes and a deformed Beverly hulker, but The Void is a patient waiting game. As Carter embarks on an almost Baskin-like tumble, his corpse-lined rabbit hole offers little direction – with plenty of gore. Characters come and go at random, connections are stretched thin, but cinematography makes up for weaker scripting (most of which will be kept secret here for spoiler reasons). A particular shot where numerous cloaked disciples loom against a forest background – lit by a police car’s blue-and-red panning light – gives us a taste of the chill-spitting richness Astron-6 can conceptualize. Elsewhere, cosmic green-screen outlooks paint universal landscapes with full character immersion (no jagged crop marks). These guys aren’t just horror comedians. Visual barks back up grotesque bites, albeit with certain imbalance.
The Void is at its best when Carter, Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and Simon (Mik Byskov) hack and blast their way through a horde of mangled, tormented “test subjects.” Cue a rotted corpse slamming its head against a sharp, broken pipe, as the metal spike passes cleanly through (over and over). A festering spark that ignites an even more torturous fire, as Astron-6 delivers bone-snapping, stomach-bursting, brain-splattering effects that urge CGI to fuck right off. It may take a little while to reach this graveyard high, but red-saturated basement rooms form a titular passageway unto a bright abyss, all lined with goretastic tapestries of horror carnage. A single birthing sequence brings forth this skull-faced, ape-like mongoloid bruiser that is beautiful in its made-from-scratch composition. These visions are like a time-portal to the 80s, with John Carpenter acting as your cackling ferryman. Disengagement dissipates and bloodletting saves the day. Don’t act surprised.
Like a good creature-feature does, The Void delivers promised gallons of fake inerts and detailed baddies. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski go wild with their effects team, only to draw focus from other cinematic aspects. Performances are fine and linear plotting is tight enough, but neither aspect will be remembered for their merits. You’re coming here for throwback riffs to monsters in rubber suits, and you’ll leave happy in that regard. They just don’t make ’em like they used to, except if you’re Astron-6. With or without accompanying depth.
The Void is a portal back to the 80s, hinged on immersive practical effects work that picks up the slack of a slighter story.