Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Strong Violence and Gore, Sexual Content, Language, and some Drug Use
Directed by: Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Nacho Vigalondo, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Written by: T.J. Cimfel, David White, Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Nacho Vigalondo, Justin Benson & Todd Lincoln
Starring: Patrick Lawrie, Emmy Argo, Heather Hayes, Jessica Luza, John Curran, Justin Whelborn, Mary Ralston, Michael Aaron Milligan & Gustavo Salmeron
I saw V/H/S at its Salt Lake City premiere during 2012’s Sundance Film Festival. That experience was by far one of the most memorable screenings I’ve ever attended at the fest. I walked into the Tower theater with only the knowledge this was a found footage horror anthology and I left blown away. After a rewatch or two, the flaws in the first anthology became apparent but I still hold it up a solid found footage flick that was like no other before it. The following January, I attended 2013’s Sundance Salt Lake premiere of V/H/S/2 (formerly titled S-VHS) and loved it even more than the first. This sequel was a huge improvement and one of the best horror films to come out of last year. I’m beginning my review this way to show that I have a special love for the V/H/S series and that’s why V/H/S: VIRAL is such a disappointment. It’s the third (and hopefully the last) entry in the V/H/S franchise. Out of three tales of handheld horror (previously four) and a wraparound, there’s only one great segment here. The others are decent, okay, and lame.
VICIOUS CIRCLES (Wraparound): A teenage boy and his girlfriend are chilling in his living room when a high-speed chase between swarms of cop cars and an ice cream truck pops up on his TV. Knowing full well that this chase will be passing by his front yard in a matter of minutes, the teenager does what any rational kid would do. He grabs his camera and starts filming. This is no ordinary chase though as the ice cream truck is broadcasting disturbing videos (hence the three segments included) to all technology near it. Anyone exposed to this broadcast begins to show distinct symptoms (bleeding nose or ears, lack of empathy, and plain recording anything they can). This wraparound segment tries to incorporate previous minor concepts shown in the V/H/S series into a grand scheme. It’s ambitious, but also confusing as hell. The ADD style of storytelling and editing makes it so much worse too. I enjoyed little snippets of things happening near the chase, but it all comes crashing down in a horrible conclusion that doesn’t feel anything close to what the V/H/S series should be. C-
DANTE THE GREAT: This first actual story sports a really awesome concept of a magician using real magic to produce extreme illusions, but he also has a bad temper towards the women in his life. Justin Whelborn (of THE SIGNAL) shines as the title character, but rushed pacing brings an otherwise fantastic idea down to just being a fun little segment. The effects look great (a mix of practical and CGI) and Dante isn’t afraid to let the gore fly. The story can’t decide whether its being told in documentary fashion or in the typical handheld style, so it tries to combine both with mixed results. All flaws aside, there is a final jump scare in this story that actually is the only time I jumped or was scared in this entire anthology. Props for that. B-
PARALLEL MONSTERS: This second segment is the best one in the entire film and feels like there should be an entire feature shaped around its concept. A scientist builds a portal that opens another dimension. This parallel universe seems to be exactly like our own, including a duplicate of said scientist. The two men decide to switch worlds for 15 minutes and things go very sour. This one was nuts! There is a massive amount of imagination and creativity used. A couple of iffy effects might not look as scary as they were intended to be, but there’s definitely a couple of moments that freaked me out. There’s a nice sense of unease hovering over this entire story that kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely the most original and coolest story in VIRAL. A-
BONESTORM: A group of annoying skateboarders travel to a deserted area of Mexico and run across a death cult. The effects are amazing and so are occasional moments. Shaky Go-Pro camera work and frenetic editing render this one to be incomprehensible at points though. You can imagine that might put a damper on the ghoulish fun. There’s also no real conclusion. This story just sort of ends without a concrete finale. There are good things about this short, but I just wish more work had been done on it so I could see the effects better and it would feel complete. C+
Before I get into my final thoughts on V/H/S: VIRAL (as if they’re not apparent enough), there was also a fourth segment involving a shady organization tracking a serial killer that was entirely removed from the final cut of this film. Now, one of two scenarios could be taking place. Magnet Releasing might have liked the segment so much that they’re currently pouring more of a budget into the project so it might become a feature-length film (this is my hope) or it was just cut out and will be placed as an extra on the eventual home video release of V/H/S: VIRAL. If it’s the former, I’m excited to see it. If it’s the latter, what harm could it have done to insert this short into the final cut? The overall film seems a tad short as it is (I was shocked by the 81 minute running time as opposed to the 97 minutes previously listed everywhere). V/H/S: VIRAL is a mess, but it’s an interesting mess with one great segment and another decent one. If you’re dead set on viewing it, then there isn’t anything I can do to dissuade you. If you you’re not a diehard V/H/S fan, then wait until VIRAL eventually pops up on Netflix and just skip to the second segment. Until then, go watch ABCS OF DEATH 2 if you want a worthwhile horror anthology for Halloween.