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Hipster Holy Grail: The Void (2001)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover a hidden treasure. Sometimes I don't. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

The Void is pretty boring and I don't wish it upon anybody.  But if you're a movie history nerd and you're in need of a data point for the decline of the B movie, this one would be a strong mark for the the year 2001.

My Rating: 2 / 5

The Part Where I Summarize the Plot

Eva (Amanda Tapping) is an ambiguous scientist-type whose father was killed during a (possibly illegal?) experiment led by Abernathy (Malcolm McDowell).  Abernathy had hoped to perfect a new technology to use SCIENCE! to generate limitless clean energy, but his lust for power led him to overlook safety protocols and he inadvertently created a black hole with the potential to destroy the planet.  Eva fears that Abernathy may be at it again, so she starts a relationship with Steven (Adrian Paul), another ambiguous scientist-type who works at Abernathy's company, in order to steal confidential information to build a case against him.

....aaaaaand right about here is where I started to get lost, because I'm not entirely clear what Eva's end game is. I get that she's upset about her father's death and that she wants to make sure Abernathy doesn't repeat the same mistakes.  But is she simply a whistleblower?  Is she trying to report her findings to the media?  Does she want to report Abernathy to the authorities?  Is she trying to get facts to report to Abernathy himself in a vain attempt to make him see his own faults in an awed moment of self-reflection?

The answer seems to be: yes.  Something like that.

So, anyway, she keeps digging around in Abernathy's business and hacking his files and all that crap, but Eva makes one mistake: she falls in love.  (Also, she's bad at espionage, but that's another story.) As it turns out, she and Steven have a pretty good thing going despite the fact that their relationship was based on deceit.  This turns out to be a surprisingly deep focus of the movie, which bills itself as a low-budget science fiction thriller and spends maybe a quarter of its runtime on their relationship.

It's not always bad.  Actually, the only decent scenes in the whole movie come out of Eva and Steven's interactions. One particularly good exchange comes toward the end when Eva and Steven have been caught by Abernathy's goons and locked up in a closet where they expect to die in the next few hours.  Since they haven't had a particularly honest relationship to this point, they spend their time asking seemingly arbitrary questions about each other's interests in order to get to know one another before it's too late.  It's an effective moment in an otherwise schlocky and dull movie.

Their relationship also leads to a sex scene with nude footage of an obvious body double edited poorly into sequences of Adrian Paul kissing Amanda Tapping's neck.  It's not a good scene, but... y'know, anonymous boobs.  That's something.  Better than listening to the long scenes where Eva makes idle chit chat with her boring blind friend whose only character trait is that she's blind.

And damn if she won't shut up about it - there's even a moment where Eva, apparently forgetting everything about her friend, points to a screen and says, "Look at this," and then Blindy Can't-See motions to her eyes and says, "Can't," and then Eva apologizes and describes the screen in great, graphic detail for the benefit of both Blindy and the stupid people watching who could see but don't wanna.  It's like they didn't know how to do exposition, so they were like, "What if Amanda just keeps describing shit to a blind lady?" and nobody on the production staff bothered to say, "That's terribly insulting to all of mankind.  Please don't share your ideas anymore, Jeff."

Anyway, I think I glossed over this, but Abernathy is a bad guy and is trying to kill Eva while she tries to stop his experiment.  FYI.

It eventually culminates in a dramatic showdown at Abernathy's lab where he creates a black hole that threatens to destroy the planet.  Everybody shouts a lot and then Abernathy decides to sacrifice his life by evacuating the building and staying behind to... do science... of some sort... and die and save the day.  The end.

PS - It was okay that Abernathy died, because he was already dying of cancer.  And while that may seem insensitive of me, I've actually given the topic more tact and nuance than the film did.

The Part About Shitty Henchmen

Abernathy's goons aren't very good at their job.  (Or rather, his goon, as even though it's implied he has countless forces at his disposal, we only ever really see one dude doing his bidding.)  They repeatedly allow Eva and Steven to get access to confidential information and locations and they're always one step behind the curve on protecting Abernathy.  They also don't seem capable of tracking down Eva even though she has made very little effort to hide her identity.

But those are minor complaints.  That's the kind of crap you expect from a goon - dumb muscle, right?  The part that I really hate, though - and it kinda ventures into shitty cop territory - is that they're so bad at murder.

There's at least two scenes I can think of where a goon murders somebody before they can blow the whistle on Abernathy's plot, and they both follow the same flow of events: Eva hangs out with Dead Meat, Eva leaves, Eva returns and sees Dead Meat's dead body, then the goon pops up around a corner and chases Eva, Eva gets far enough away that the goon gives up, Eva reports the murder to the cops, and then the cops shrug and say, "We didn't find a body, so... yeah, I'm not going to follow up on this."

In order for this to work, though, you have to assume the following:

1) The goon stumbled into the victim's place and realized that Eva wasn't around, but instead of saying, "Huh, guess I'll try later," decided, "Well, I already brought my good knife," and stabbed the victim to death, anyway.

2) He's not terribly concerned with keeping the crime scene clean, so he doesn't bother to lay down plastic or call a clean-up crew or anything.  He just lets the victim fall down wherever.

3) He's also not terribly concerned about getting out of the crime scene quickly, so instead of trying to dispose of the body, he just lets the corpse lay out in the open for awhile.  I guess he needs to take a dump or something at this point, because he actually steps out of the room and leaves the body unattended.

4) Only after he realizes that Eva is back does he reenter the scene - almost like he was waiting just to show off his handiwork - but he doesn't bother to kill her, because it's only now that he realizes he has a body to get rid of, so instead of chasing after the person he originally came for (and stopping her from calling the police), he gets rid of the evidence of a mostly unrelated crime.

You could maybe do this once and not get fired, but the second time you report back to me that you narrowly missed your actual target and instead killed her blind roommate, you better have a good damn excuse.  It's not like you're working a cash register and gave out the wrong change, buddy.

The Part About Shitty Business Models

I don't get Abernathy's plan.  Let's ignore the science, since it's obviously fiction and who cares.  I mean his business plan.

He wants to make cheap, clean energy, right?  But he doesn't know for sure that his technology will do what he wants it to, right?  So in order to move full speed ahead, he needs to work out the bugs, right?

So why is he so pissy about not listening to warnings of potential errors?  Shouldn't he be more interested in things that could go wrong?

It's not like he's a coal-based energy producer or something.  It's not a situation where he knows he can produce something, but it comes at a vast environmental / health cost and he's decided that he doesn't care.  It's not like he's actually providing power to all of the West Coast and he just so happens to be letting out a stray black hole that destroys a few farms every weekend.  (Though that would be a better movie.)

He's instead investing in an unproven technology.  Which means he has to prove it in order to make money. So, again: why not give Eva a chance to make her case so you can fix your shit and make a profit?

The movie wants us to think Abernathy's company is acting like a British Petroleum or maybe even an Enron, but it seems like it's just a poorly-managed SolarCity.  That's significantly less terrifying.

The Part About B Movies (Again)

The Void occupies an interesting spot on the line graph charting the quality of B movies over the last fifty years.  It comes after the peak, but it's still technically on the part where the line has a gradual slope down. Only a few years after this is when the line immediately takes a sharp turn and shoots straight down to flatline at the bottom of the barrel.

It was clearly made to be broadcast on SyFy (back when it was still Sci-Fi).  It follows the model of a lot of made-for-TV movies at the time: cast one or two recognizable names from a popular contemporary show, such as Stargate, and try to bring some legitimacy to the project with a more respectable, but still affordable actor, such as Malcolm McDowell, and match them with a script that could be filmed largely in the actors' houses and the lobby of your production office.  Throw in some gratuitous nudity for the R-rated DVD / VHS edition and you're looking at a tidy profit.

The Void was released during that weird spot in SyFy's history when they were getting popular enough they could pretend they weren't responsible for airing Babylon 5 reruns ad nauseum, but they weren't quite so popular that they didn't know what to do with themselves and had to make up a bullshit name in order to justify broadcasting ghost shows, wrestling, and probably something about Hitler.

In that sense, The Void is an interesting snapshot of a transitional moment in the history of B Movies.  This was a time when the barrier to entry for independent film had almost been removed entirely, so up-and-coming directors and amateurs were free to experiment on their own without having to go through the ordeal of making made-for-TV movies for conglomerates, but it was still just before the advent of The Asylum.

It's kind of tragic in that sense.  The Void is actually trying to be a movie - maybe not a good movie, but still a movie, with actual scenes and characters and effort and a plot.  It's not a bunch of bullcrap loosely tied together with Windows Movie Maker like later SyFy movies have been.  But it's also boring as hell.  It suggests to me that B movies didn't die; they committed suicide.

Where You Can Watch

I really don't recommend it, but if you insist, you can watch The Void on Netflix, where it is currently streaming.

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