29th Oct2014

‘V/H/S Viral’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Emmy Argo, Amanda Baker, Rim Basma, Nick Blanco, Dan Caudill, Stephen Caudill, Greyson Chadwick, Lindsay Clift, Jawed El Berni, Laura Eschmann, Natalia Ferreiro, Michael Flores, Angela Garcia | Written and Directed by Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento, Nacho Vigalondo

vhs-viral

The V/H/S franchise’s overarching idea is the concept that like David Cronenberg’s Videodrome posits, the video image can corrupt on a biological level, the grainy images and muffled sound can somehow change a person. This isn’t just something which happens in the world of these films though, as in the majority of cases, it also affects the filmmakers involved, allowing them to wallow in the more tired tropes of cinematic horror, along with its fixation on objectifying women, and as a result, make some of the worst stuff of their careers. Ti West and Adam Wingard are just two of the new breed of horror directors who have fallen victim to the V/H/S curse with their efforts, two directors who generally make good to excellent films usually, and only a few have escaped its clutches, most notably the “Safe Haven” section of V/H/S 2, directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahanto. This now annual franchise returns with V/H/S Viral, a film which as its title suggests, looks to go beyond the auto tracking and into the air itself.

The result is an incredibly mixed bag, with positive things to say about almost all the stories but plenty of negative too. The wrap-around story has always been a bit of a problem with the V/H/S films but this one changes things up with chase sequences and the general pushing of the idea of the mythology of the series, with the chaos these images present being taken to the streets and trouble ensuing. The focus is put on a boyfriend and girlfriend for reasons I assume the filmmakers know themselves, it’s not really clear why in practice, and the individual sections are all engaging enough and the scale is welcome but it all feels like placeholder material with a climax which seems to signal the end of the franchise but has little visceral impact which given these films have been working up to this feels like quite the letdown.

The first uninterrupted story is also the most successful of the bunch. Gregg Bishop’s Dante The Great eschews the V/H/S format almost entirely, setting itself up as a mockumentary complete with talking heads and TV footage but in doing so, it feels somewhat fresher than the rest of the stories. Its central conceit, that of a magician’s cloak which eats people, something that recalls the mighty cheese of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, a genuine film this reviewer has experienced in all its glory, but it is played seriously and climaxes with a genuinely inventive fight where stage magic tricks are employed with deadly force. The bizarre tone of silly premise with straight faced conviction works for the most part and while the end of the short is a rather generic one, the rest has enough of interest to keep you going.

Moving onto Nacho Vigalondo’s Parallel Monsters, and things get a little more dicey. Much of this short blends much of his previous work, the perspective shifting of TimeCrimes and Open Windows along with the odd sense of humour of Extraterrestrial. For most of this piece, the sense of ambiguity about what is actually happening as a scientist opens a door to another universe and finds himself is enjoyable but when the plotting reveals itself and the practical effects rear their heads, things start to dip down quickly with a final few minutes which feel like they are designed for 12 year olds and comes at odds with the fun sci-fi mystery sense of before hand.

Two of the more exciting new horror directors of recent times, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead of Resolution and the hotly tipped festival favourite Spring unfortunately fall head first into the V/H/S curse with one of the low points of the franchise overall, Bonestorm. 20-odd minutes of watching skaters be annoying before watching them hit people dressed up in costumes, albeit with the occasional effective practical effect, is about as much fun as it sounds. The entire point of the story is lost amid Go-Pro shot confusion with entire sections being borderline incoherent, and the whole thing feels like it was rattled off in a weekend, something which in all fairness can’t be applied to any of the other sections here. Benson and Moorhead remain terrific prospects but Bonehead is unequivocably poor.

The V/H/S franchise comes to what feels like a natural end more with a whimper than a bang. While the intentions behind the franchise were honourable, it feels like for the most part, it has allowed its filmmakers to indulge in their baser instincts and certainly V/H/S Viral does nothing to push horror as a genre of promise at all.

** 2/5

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