You’ve Got Horror for Days? THE VOID’s Got Cosmic Dread for Weeks

The Void. 2017. Directed and Written by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.
Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Won, Mik Byskov, Art Hindle, Stephanie Belding, James Millington, Evan Stern, & Grace Munro.
Cave Painting Pictures/JoBro Productions & Film Finance
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTEREveryone goes on and on about how this movie’s influenced by The Thing, which I’m sure is definitely true. I’d argue it’s more Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness than any of the master’s works. Others go on that it’s Lovecraftian, though I don’t agree totally; the filmmakers say it was their influence, and that’s fine. As I often preach, artistic intent doesn’t always have to equal concrete meaning to the audience.
Most of all, this is an original bit of sci-fi-ish horror on its own. Sure, it draws bits of heart from films co-writers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski likely grew up watching. It throws back to the 1980s. To give their influences too much credit is to do a disservice to their horrific originality.
Many movies post-2010 seem to feel like throwback means an ’80s-type electronic score and a dark yet vibrant look. The Void has a wicked score, the sound is perfect. Best is the fact the team behind the film went with expert practical effects for the various creatures and abominations. Add these technical aspects to solid performances from one of my latest genre favourites Aaron Poole, as well as the great Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle from Twin Peaks). This makes for one fine ride into the heart of darkness.
TheVoid1The Lovecraftian influence, the Carpenter roots, they’re fine. Gillespie and Kostanski are what matters. Their story, particularly how it’s told, works wonders on the suspense and tension which builds so dreadfully over the course of the first third of the film. Their directorial work is startling, with grim delight. We start out with an act of violence that’s inexplicable; at the time. From there, the writing-directing team unravel a tale of a cult offering sacrifices to an otherworldly entity called from the cosmos.
Production design on this one all around is fantastic. The location of the hospital is like they found a facility in the middle of nowhere, cultivating a mood all of its own. In addition, the costumes for the cult add to that atmosphere by sort of crashing down on top of the audience. When we first see them it’s a shocking moment, oh so excellent.
Not to mention the cinematography of Samy Inayeh (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh; another great flick with Poole starring) makes everything feel hazy, terrifying, like a feverish nightmare even before the descent into utter madness and hell. The visual style is most definitely part of what gives it a throwback feel. The biggest part of that essence is the practical effects work, up there with some of the best in the genre.
TheVoid2Kostanski has an extensive background in makeup effects. He’s doing stuff on the new It, he worked on ClownGirlHouseHannibal, and even worked as an uncredited prosthetics shop assistant for 2005’s Capote. Point being, he knows his shit. He uses his chops here, alongside Gillespie, whose resume is as impressive having worked on It and Suicide Squad as assistant art director (both of which his co-director and writer worked on). He was a graphic designer on Hannibal, too. He served as assistant art director on Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, and the underrated found footage 388 Arletta Avenue is his first art directing credit. These two artists together did something on this film which amazes, in the best horror kind of way.
The creatures involved in the descent to hell, as the characters of The Void explore the hospital basement, are totally wild! Some of the best stuff out there, truly. I can see why The Thing is used as comparison. Particularly when it comes to the final monster we witness birthed; like a combination of pieces of living things. A vicious finale creation. That isn’t it, though. Throughout the movie we see various creatures, and you can’t forget the other practical effects like the blood, et cetera. That seemingly simple stuff can often get lost in the shuffle for other, lesser horrors. Not these guys. The attention to detail is what drives this whole effort home.
TheVoid3Above anything else, the end and what the film builds to from the start is the payoff. I won’t spoil it. Just to say that I love the vision these guys brought to the visuals. There’s something wholly original in the way they presented the other world, where Dr. Powell (Welsh) intends on going. Those last shots are perfection, impressing upon us without words the tiny speck that is humanity on the entirety of the universe. Gorgeous, if not also disturbing.
I gave this film a 4 and 1/2 star rating (out of 5) because The Void does what two other similar movies, Baskin and Last Shift, didn’t do despite their awesomeness: it shows us an end result. What I mean is that those other two films, kick ass as they are, sort of end in a place where there’s ultimately no traction. Not saying nothing happens, if you check my reviews of them both I’m actually a huge fan (I’ve seen Baskin at least a dozen times).
The Void goes a step further, not only in its inventiveness and practical effects monster work, it also opts to go full-on cosmic. In this way, I concede that they touch on Lovecraft and his rightful idea about man’s insignificance to other much greater, larger, non-human entities out there in the universe; gods, if you will.
Again, I don’t like to lean so heavily only on influence. Gillespie and Kostanski deserve what’s due – praise, for a breathtaking wave of pure terror, start to finish. They’ll live on with this film, though I cannot wait to see their next project. These guys are the real fucking deal.

Advertisements

THE DARK TAPES: Fresh Indie Found Footage

The Dark Tapes. 2017. Directed by Vincent J. Guastini & Michael McQuown. Screenplay by McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Ryan Allan Young, & Stepehn Zimpel.
Thunder Road Incorporated.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Dark Tapes 1Director Michael McQuown sent me a screener for his and co-director Vincent J. Guastini’s independent film, The Dark Tapes. I’d heard of it awhile, hearing plenty of good things. Not overhyped; hyped just enough. I’m always ready to dig in on a found footage flick, no matter how tired the sub-genre seems to get with so many low budget efforts being pumped out simply to get a director and some actors a credit to their names.
The Dark Tapes isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few missteps that could’ve been avoided to make the whole thing more effective, certain tapes in the lot aren’t as good as others. Often anthologies suffer from this fate. The lesser tapes are still good. There’s nothing bad here. Each tape, regardless of its setbacks, has an eerie quality to it respectively.
McQuown and Guastini use a meagre budget wisely, choosing to use effects sparingly and, for the most part, they work. This is one of their best moves, because they don’t set the bar too high yet clearly focused on staying creepy. There are standouts in the series of tapes, presented through the narrative of being proof of government conspiracy-type stuff, the truth the powers that be suppress and keep from the people – a couple deserve their own full-length treatments. Certain segments stand up with some of the best of the V/H/S series (no surprise considering Guastini is not only an effects guy, he did work on the third entry, Viral).
Dark Tapes 2My only beef, and I’ll get to this first before discussing what I enjoyed so much, is that the directing is mostly excellent. Then, they choose to show us too much. For the longest time what we only get glimpses of in frame is what drives the pulse-pounding terror. As you can see in the photo above, that’s a startling shot. Love that moment; freezing the frame only compounds the fear. However, the directors lose some of that momentum later when they choose to show this demonic figure up close for too long. They try offsetting this with the use of camera glitches (et cetera). But it never makes up for the undoing of the fright from seeing the creature long enough we can start picking out some of the less stellar aspects of its creation.
The rest of the tapes are presented with brief shots and bits that are framed properly so that the low budget qualities don’t glare. And honestly, it’s only the one main demon in the “To Catch a Demon” segments that comes off as cheesy, which is late in the game. Otherwise, in the “Amanda’s Revenge” tape, the creatures (or whatever you want to call them) look legitimately gnarly, in the best horror sense. Particularly in that tape, we get some wonderfully old school film shots, the rickety frame, catching a presence in the distance, and it’s so genuinely perfect for the type of eeriness for which this segments is aiming.
Dark Tapes 3The tapes have an overall framing narrative, though I think that while there’s a connection between the tapes as a whole, it isn’t as connective as the filmmakers might hope. Mostly, I don’t feel that the connections are tight enough. The writing is interesting, at every turn. I can’t help think McQuown could’ve brainstormed something better to make them all into the cohesive unit the beginning (and mid-credits) speech we hear wishes it’d become. If this were tighter then it would’ve greatly improved the film.
But the stories, they’re fresh. Even in the moments some of them don’t exactly work as intended, they’re innovative. I found “The Hunters and the Hunted” was my favourite because it caught me so off guard once the revelation came, until then I expected a run of the mill bit of paranormal shlock; a proper twist, if there ever were! Also enjoyed “Cam Girls” except the end devolved into a ham-fisted mess. Before that it was wildly creepy, the editing made it feel very kinetic and full of horrific energy; while it falls apart later with absolutely no subtlety and a ton of unnecessary exposition that could’ve been given to us through imagery earlier (a missed opportunity), this segment  was insane.
And “Cam Girls” has an underlying metaphor in it, about our porn-obsessed culture that involves men watching women through their screens performing, some thinking they’re falling in love just by watching. If only the plot of this segment were worked out better, it’d be a devastating short.
Dark Tapes 5For a low budget, non-studio film, The Dark Tapes has an impressive production value. This is one of the things that keeps even the lesser pieces involving, it’s better than the average indie found footage attempt. With so many of these sub-genre flicks saturating the market, incredibly easy to make on a shoestring to non-existent budget, it’s nice to see what’s so obviously a labour of horror love come to the screen from these directors.
Sure, not every segment is perfect. A couple are scary as hell. And like I’ve yammered on, even in those segments which don’t measure up there’s still things to pique your interest. If anything, the effort the team on this film put in is astounding. Kudos to them all, I certainly hope that McQuown and Guastini do more, whether it’s in found footage that’s up to them. Without a doubt they’ve got horror sensibilities.
The Dark Tapes, warts and all, is one of the better found footage movies I’ve seen as of late, running the gamut of horror, thriller, and science fiction with relative ease. Like Tales of HalloweenHolidaysV/H/S, and Southbound, this is an anthology worth dipping into for a fright.

RINGS: The Sequel I Never Knew I Wanted

Rings. 2017. Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, & David Loucka.
Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig, & Laura Wiggins.
Macari-Edelstein/Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation/Vertigo Entertainment.
Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2
posterDisclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to go in fresh, and I suggest you do, then DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW! For thou will be spoiled.

To start, I’ve always loved both the original Ringu from Hideo Nakata and also Gore Verbinski’s remake The Ring. They’re equally disturbing and eerie, in their own rights. I was a lot less impressed with Nakata doing the sequel to the remake, The Ring Two, which I’d hoped would’ve been better. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed bits. Overall I love the mythology of the original story, how the remake handled it in his own way, and of course the first film from Nakata with its truly ghostly feeling. They’re each the type of horror that works its way under your skin until it’s inside you. Remember that first hideous, dead face in the closet in Verbinski’s film? I don’t even have to watch it again to picture it in my mind.
So, once Rings was announced, I actually – honestly – did not give a shit. Total honesty. A few days ago while I had the day to myself, I wandered into Cineplex and bought a ticket. Again, full disclosure: I wanted to see Split (which I will soon). Seeing as how there wasn’t a showtime soon enough for me, Rings got my money.
Although there are a few things I didn’t like – namely the last couple minutes with its reveal, and some issues I had concerning the time frame of certain events – there were a ton of other things I enjoyed, a hell of a lot. Never expected it, either. And maybe that helped. No matter what it was, part of the credit is certainly F. Javier Gutiérrez’s directing. Plus I was impressed by the writing team of Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, and David Loucka, who managed to deliver a screenplay that, while faulty in spots, felt imaginative, Gothic, and paid tribute to the original story in a fresh way.
rings1At first I felt like the opening was cheesy, as it’s the same plane scene we saw in promos recently. Then, as I sat in the theatre, it felt much more dreadful. Really pulse pounding, stressful stuff. Worked great on the big screen. This is an example of the writers bringing Samara (Bonnie Morgan) onto (and in through) the screen in intriguing ways. Later, perhaps my favourite appearance of Samara through a television screen happens as Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) hides in a bathroom – the victim tears a TV from the wall to try stopping the inevitable, and then Samara emerges as the screen lies flat on the floor, pushing her way out into the world (see: picture below). The opener and this scene alone gave us enough new, exciting appearances by the girl at the heart of the story that I feel Estes, Goldsman, and Loucka deserve a pat on the back. They could’ve focused totally on the story itself, the mythology, and left Samara’s television high jinks by the wayside, unoriginal, stale. They chose to try covering it all.
Brings me to another part of Rings I loved: the mythology opens up. The story takes us into a whole new era, literally. We bridge the gap between VHS and MPEG-4; the first interesting plot point. Johnny Galecki plays a professor named Gabriel. He ends up buying a VCR from a sale, and it winds up containing a stuck tape – you know which one! From there, this leads him into an existential search for answers after discovering, as Naomi Watts and others before him, that to survive you must make a copy of the tape, and the cycle continues. He begins a sort of secretive research project involving people watching the tape, then another person hours later watching the copy (a ‘tail’ as Gabriel calls it). Amazing setup for another chapter in The Ring‘s mythology.
rings2That’s not all, though. A man named Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio) turns up later, and the town he lives in played a significant part in the life of Samara. It also holds the key to where she came from, before poor Brian Cox and his wife had their lives – and horses – destroyed by the little girl. This is where the Gothic feel of the story comes into play. This calls us back to that feeling Verbinski tapped into with The Ring, where the country-type settings return and the Gothic sense of secrets brimming under the surface of the town come alive once more. I won’t go on and spoil the twist they have in store, because I didn’t actually expect it, though maybe I should have according to some other, more snooty reviewers. Apart from the twist, there’s such a palpably eerie feeling that hovers like a fog over the last third of the film when Julia makes it to the little town where they discovered Samara’s bones are supposedly buried. This Gothic portion is another beautifully circular piece of the puzzle, as everything in the mythology of Samara seems to circle back in on itself.
I’ve also got to commend Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz. Not that I have anything to compare this performance with, never having seen her act before, but she does good work here. Personally I love Naomi Watts, but Lutz does a far better job giving her character Julia depth, as opposed to a relatively flat performance from Watts in her role as Rachael (over two films no less). This girl Julia gets sucked into the world of the tape and Samara in whirlwind, in a much different situation than Rachael. Lutz’s is the best performance by far, a mixture of apprehension, fear, curiosity. This isn’t one of those run and scream roles, much more than that. And this young actress is someone I hope to see again soon.
RINGSDefinitely not for everyone, Rings will probably only appeal, or mostly, to die hard fans of the first remake. It honestly may not even appeal to Ringu fans, though you never can tell. Despite any of that I feel that Gutiérrez (who did a fantastic film just under a decade ago called Before the Fall) did interesting things as director, and he crafted the compelling new story into a moody, Gothic piece.
Sure, if you watched only the initial half of the film you might feel there isn’t much for this sequel to stand on. There are a couple intriguing things going for it. The real fun doesn’t start until a little ways in, when the mythology not only creeps into the contemporary world of technology but also goes back to the original and expands further. And even though I actually did not like the last few minutes when we’re revealed something that could’ve been suspected earlier, I do dig the very contemporary take on social media that’s offered in those final moments (you’ll understand more if you’ve actually seen the film).
So I’d recommend any non-jaded horror fans who are willing to stop being so judgemental constantly and ready to have fun, plus fans of The Ring and particularly its Gothic-ness, check out Rings. Have some fun. I know I did. I’m not ready for another sequel or anything, I’m just glad Gutiérrez injected life into a sequel I never asked for or knew I wanted.