In The Void, a police officer, Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) drops an injured man off at a barely functioning hospital, to be cared for by nurse-his wife, Allison (Kathleen Munroe)-and her trainee, Kim (Ellen Wong). Meanwhile, a teenage girl, Maggie (Grace Munro) waits to be seen by Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh). In the midst of an otherwise quiet night, Carter walks in on one of the other nurses killing a patient and before the group knows it, they are attacked by a giant, terrifying monster and surrounded by a mysterious fleet of people wearing white robes. As if that weren’t stressful enough, they are joined by an angry father (Daniel Fathers) and son (Mik Byskov) duo who wield axes and are just barely on their side. It turns out the hospital, recent the site of a fire that nearly shut it down, is the breeding ground for an evil none of them could imagine.
The Void is a strange mixture of throw-back and innovative. Fans of Stranger Things would probably really enjoy it, but it is much scarier than the Netflix series. In fact, one of the things I enjoyed most about the film was the balance it strikes between suspense and horror. When the monsters are shown, they are really legitimately scary. And gross. And gory. Much of the film, however, focuses on the people trying to survive and the creepy robed people outside the hospital. As the suspense builds, it’s almost a relief to have something that is in-your-face scary.
The film also does interesting work with themes around grief and maternity. Daniel and Allison are grieving a stillbirth and Dr. Powell lost his daughter. Their emotional turmoil comes to a head around the complicated delivery of Maggie’s baby. The film smartly does not offer many answers to these struggles, but it does some scary, twisted things with them.
In all, The Void is well-crafted, compelling and reminiscent of great horror from the 1980s and ‘90s. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.
The Void was written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski. It runs 90 minutes and is not rated, but if it were, it would probably be R for the violence. It is playing now in select theaters or is available to rent on iTunes.
For something completely different, you could try Queen of the Desert, but I’m not sure you should. This film would possibly be a hit for fans of Jane Austen or period pieces, but in general it is shockingly dull.
Queen of the Desert tells the story of scientist and explorer Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman), who sets out with her guide Fattuh (Jay Abdo) to study the bedouin tribes of the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Motivated by her boredom at the life of a lady and grief over her dead fiance, Henry (James Franco), Gertrude continues to push the boundaries, exploring more remote tribes and encountering Lawrence of Arabia (Robert Pattinson), Winston Churchill (Christopher Fullford), and many dangers. As she explores the desert, she also seeks out healing and the limits of her own heart. And corny romantic stuff like that.
Nicole Kidman is a talented, wonderful actor, but she is miscast in this role. In the first act of the film, watching her breathlessly dither over James Franco like an ingenue is as farcical as the idea that Franco would be a romantic hero for her to pine over. As the film continues, her casting is less awkward and feels more appropriate, but those early scenes are painful enough that they are hard to forgive. It makes me wonder what this film could have been with fresher casting-an actress who has not made a dozen period pieces already. Kidman herself looks bored and unchallenged a lot of the time.
The film also fails to explore Gertrude’s motivations meaningfully. Although the screenplay is clearly reaching for a feminist feel good herstory vibe, it attributes most of Gertrude’s motivation to her heartache over a romance that itself is barely developed. Gertrude’s curiosity and her observations about nationalism, empire and anthropology are far more interesting, but are given a backseat to her love life, which, frankly, is not very compelling.
Queen of the Desert feels like such a missed opportunity. The subject is interesting and the film uses the natural landscape and period costumes beautifully. The problems of its casting and underdeveloped characters, however, ruin the promise of its historical narrative. I rate this film 2/5 stars.
Queen of the Desert was written and directed by Werner Herzog. It runs 128 minutes and is rated PG-13 for brief nudity and thematic elements. It is playing now in select theaters or is available to rent on iTunes.
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