It’s hard to watch a low-budget Canadian horror film with exploding heads, oozing wounds and phallic tentacles and not think of the great David Cronenberg. The directors of “The Void” would likely have no issue with those thoughts.
While “The Void” pays homage to early Cronenberg (plus the films of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper), it never comes close to capturing the splattering glee that gushes out of every frame of films like “Shivers,” “Rabid” and “The Brood.”
More than anything else, a sense of fun is what’s missing from this much-buzzed entry from filmmakers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski. There is no question, however, that “The Void” -- showing at the North Park Theatre for just four screenings April 30 through May 3 -- is the work of talented, confident directors.
Gillespie and Kostanski are part of a Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6, which sounds like a subsidiary of “Alien”’s Weyland-Yutani or “Blade Runner”’s Tyrell Corporation. “The Void” is the directing duo’s highest-profile feature to date. And for horror fans, it qualifies as solid entertainment.
Except for costar Kenneth Welsh (the character actor known as “Twin Peaks” villain Windom Earle), the cast of is comprised of unknowns. This believable group of performers is led by Aaron Poole as deputy Daniel Carter.
Life as a policeman in a sleepy Canadian town is seemingly a bit dull, until a dozing Carter comes upon a wounded young man crawling out of the woods. Carter takes the drug addict to a seriously understaffed (and soon to close down) nearby hospital.
The small group holding down the fort -- Dr. Richard Powell (Welsh, in a role the late Donald Pleasence would have relished); Carter’s ex-wife Allison (Kathleen Munroe), a nurse; and two other nurses -- is unprepared for the carnage to come.
What carnage? First, one of the nurses, seemingly in a daze, kills a patient and is shot dead by Carter. Next, a vengeful father and son storm the hospital, looking to take out the young man from the woods.
Oh, lurking outside are tall, hooded cultists. A pregnant girl and her grandfather don’t particularly help matters, either.
The stage is set for scares, and the sterile, grim hospital setting is a fine spot. Things grow more intense quickly, and the film reveals itself to be a creature feature, one full of pleasingly non-CGI, tentacled beasts.
Disappointingly, the longer “The Void” gets, and the more plot heavy it becomes, the less effective it feels. The backstory involving Powell never interests, nor does the path that brought the gun-wielding father and son to the hospital.
Still, the film has one of horror’s greatest recent sequences, a nightmare of reborn creatures bathed in red lighting set in the hospital basement. In moments like these the film blazes its own gooey path. But it does not have enough of these scenes to truly resonate.
“The Void” also is too indebted to its genre predecessor. It’s clear, for example, that William Peter Blatty’s “Exorcist III” was an influence, right down to a subtle allusion to the unfairly ignored (recently reappraised) sequel’s OMG-worthy hospital hallway scare. (YouTube that scene right now.) And undoubtedly directors Gillespie and Kostanski would reference directors Cronenberg, Hooper and Carpenter.
However, “The Void” never quite stands on its own. It feels too much like a rehash to make a lasting impression, and far too often veers away from the inherent fun of the premise to someplace darker, and infinitely more sour.
Thanks to some noteworthy visual flare from the directors, enjoyably creepy effects, and a game cast (especially Welsh), “The Void” warrants a recommendation. But just barely.
2 ½ stars (out of 4)
Starring: Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Mik Byskov
Directors: Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: Unrated, but equivalent to an R for bloody violence and gore, strong language, and brief nudity
The lowdown: A police officer experiences strange and violent occurrences at an understaffed hospital, seemingly linked to a group of mysterious hooded figures.
Times: Screenings are at 9:30 p.m. April 30, May 2 and 3 and 10 p.m. May 4 at the North Park, 1428 Hertel Ave.