Stars: Sofia Black-D’Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Travis Tope, Michael Kelly, Machine Gun Kelly, John Cothran, Stoney Westmoreland, Linzie Gray, Philip Labes | Written by Christopher Landon, Barbara Marshall | Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
A sci-fi horror from the directorial duo of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who made a name for themselves with the documentary Catfish and went on to helm a couple of found footage Paranormal Activity films. Viral marks the duo’s second traditional feature following cyber-thriller Nerve (which has helmed BEFORE this film but released afterwards).
The film follows teenager Emma Drakeford (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and her sister Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) who – after a catastrophic virus wipes out much of the world’s population – are left to fend for themselves in their quarantined town. However, when the deadly infection spreads throughout the safe zone, Emma is left with some difficult choices as she attempts to protect her sister and escape the killer disease.
Methodically paced, Viral takes its time to tell its story, allowing the audience to get to know the core characters more and see their already fractured releationships in play before unleashing the real horror of the parasitic infection on the cast AND the audience. This could have been a Dawn of the Dead-like apocalyptic tale of horror but instead the story focuses more on the familial relationship between its two leads and how this already disfunctional “broken” family copes with even more pressure in the face of a viral outbreak. What Viral also does is show how prescient the horror genre can be, as once again filmmakers tap into the real world for a tale that takes the paranoia and panic about the Zika virus to a whole new terrifying level…
Unlike other exmaples of the genre, a lot of the effects work in this film is kept under wraps (or in the dark), this is definitely a case of less is more – which makes a change from your typical Blumhouse production, which usually throw everything at the audience in an attempt to terrify. Of course, I would have liked to have seen more of the creature design for the infected hosts – but what we do see: strange tendrils used to feel the air around them and a clicking “tracking” sound reminiscent of that of the Predator, is very intriguing.
There are some issues, mainly relating to the why and what-fors of the outbreak, but as a relationship drama hidden within the skin of a horror movie, Viral really works – mainly thanks to it’s two tremendous leading ladies, who carry the weight of the film on their shoulders with aplomb; and whose performances help to make the bittersweet conclusion to the film truly tug on the heartstrings!
Part body-horror infection film, part family drama, Viral is out now on DVD from Lionsgate.