'The Void' Is The Best '80s Horror Throwback In Years [Fantastic Fest Review]

In the eyes of many genre filmmakers, the horror genre peaked in the '80s and this mindset has informed entire filmographies. To attend any genre film festival is to wade through movies that feel like deliberate riffs on the work of directors like John Carpenter, movies filled with gooey practical effects and set to icy synth soundtracks. This kind of affection for a bygone era even went mainstream this summer with the release of Netflix's Stranger Things – everyone wants to make a great '80s movie 30 years after the fact and it can feel stifling. Nostalgia can be a bitch and a half. After a few miserable '80s horror pastiches, you can't help but feel ready to throw this entire subgenre to the dogs.

And then something like The Void arrives and shows how you can do it right.

Written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski (two members of the filmmaking collective known as Astron-6), The Void certainly sounds like it emerged from a time tunnel connecting us to 1982. A group of people (including a pregnant woman and the Cop With Personal Issues) find themselves under siege in a small town hospital by an army of white-robed, dagger-wielding cultists. But it may be even more dangerous inside the building, where people are transforming into unclassifiable (and very, very gooey) monsters that don't die quickly or easily. The Void gets to work quickly, cutting through the fat of the ensemble and sending the survivors into one very long, very bad night.

On one level, The Void does wear its influences on its sleeve. To watch it is to take note of the filmmakers who obviously inspired Gillespie and Kostanski and there are shades of John Carpenter, Clive Barker, and Lucio Fulci evident in every frame of this movie. But unlike so many of its contemporaries, The Void never uses past films as a crutch. There are no winks and nods here, no direct references or in-jokes. This is very much its own movie, a tale that feels like it belongs alongside the films it admires instead of a Greatest Hits collection performed by a cover band.

More than anything, The Void reminded me of the work of Stuart Gordon. Not because their film feels like Re-Animator or Dagon (Gillespie and Kostanski don't have time for slapstick), but because it resembles like a wild, splattery adaptation that uses H.P. Lovecraft short story as a launch pad for completely deranged, grotesque insanity. Except that The Void isn't based on a Lovecraft tale – it just feels like it is. It's weird fiction roots run deep and the film is at its absolute best when it dredges up pure cosmic dread alongside the more immediate physical threats. The Void is a low-budget production, but it conjures images of vast, unknowable terror that get the skin crawling. If Gillespie and Kostanski avoid explaining exactly what's going on, they're simply working in a century-old horror tradition. Not knowing is as scary as knowing. And it's probably safer, too.

But what you can see and what you do know is exceptional. The cultists, recognizable from the single black triangle on their heads, are unnerving from frame one. However, it is the monsters who steal the show. While Gillespie and Kostanski have plenty of experience working with low-budget visual effects from their Astron-6 days, the practical effects here are not intentionally kitschy, nor do they look deliberately homemade. The creatures are impossible to define, their proportions so far from human that they can scarcely be described. Shooting them in constant shadow may have been a budgetary decision, but it is one that works in the film's favor. Every time you see one of these proudly practical monsters, a mountain of sculpted latex and god-kn0ws-what-else, it looks a little different. Like John Carpenter's The Thing, The Void never lets you fully grasp its monsters and it works out for the better.

And as you'd expect from any movie that prides itself on practical make-up and monsters, this one very gooey, very gross movie. Lovers of well-executed movie gore will be in heaven.

Those monsters and the practical effects and the pervasive sense of hopelessness are the real stars of The Void and as it pulls no punches as it marches toward its hellish, non-stop third act. However, it does take a little while to rev its engines and the characters, while ably performed by good actors doing good work, ultimately feel more like a list of victims than anyone you truly care about. But that slow pace and those thin characters ultimately feel like a fine trade-off for what the rest of the film delivers. The Void may not be an instant classic like the movies it was obviously inspired by, but it scratches the same itch as Hellraiser and The Beyond without having to lean on them for support. That's impressive. That's important. The '80s horror throwback has finally grown up and matured.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10