Movie Review - V/H/S: Viral
Attempting to capitalize on the popularity of the first two films in the series, V/H/S: Viral is by far the weakest entry into the series. Anyone who's been following me for a long time knows that, despite the fact that I enjoy several of the segments from the previous movies, I am not a very big fan of the franchise. And V/H/S: Viral did nothing to elevate my opinion of the series. In case you're new to the V/H/S films, they are part of an anthology series, each film featuring several shorts by different directors woven into some larger wrap-around story. The first film had one extremely strong entry directed by Radio Silence and a few other entertaining shorts, but the entire conceit of the film was a major disappointment for me. Namely because the wraparound story was filmed to seem like it takes place in the late 80's or early 90's, shot on a VHS camcorder, but somehow the movies recorded on the tapes take place in the present and feature technology that post-dates the narrative story. What? The second film seems to have corrected the mistake and at least set the narrative story in the present. Not only that, but V/H/S 2 has a lot more to offer the viewer, including the absolutely breathtaking short, Safe Haven. But instead of taking another step forward with the third offering, the series has taken another step back. V/H/S: Viral is now available on iTunes and VOD.
Unlike it's predecessors, V/H/S: Viral's narrative strays from the discovery of a VHS tape. This time it instead revolves around a group of teens on their bikes trying to catch footage of a police chase through the streets of Los Angeles, in order to create a viral video. And while I admire the decision to stay from the formula, the narrative never really goes anywhere, nor does it do anything to tie the other stories together. The first of the short films contained within the wrap-around involves a disturbed illusionist who comes across a magical object of great power. The second short centers on a home made machine that opens a door to a deceptively terrifying parallel world. And the last short focuses on a group of young skaters who, in their quest to find a new spot to skate, stumble into a Mexican death-cult ritual. There is a fourth short, though it was cut from the final version in order to save time.
In addition to the fact that the narrative story doesn't do anything to connect the shorts, it never offers us any resolution to the movie as a whole or even the wrap-around itself. There are a few moments to recommend, yet sadly not enough to make this work. The first short is promising, and has some pretty spectacular special effects. Writer and Director Gregg Bishop turns a fairly simple idea into an intriguing segment that highlights the risk of corruption stemming from absolute power. It is a strong piece to lead off with, but ultimately runs a little too long. The second short shows promise, but the execution is lacking. I applaud the use of practical effects and makeup in place of CGI, but the implementation here looks sloppy and excessively corny. Thankfully, the film picks up with the final short, written and directed by the insanely talented Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead. The film making duo was responsible for one of the creepiest mind fucks in years with last years film, Resolution, so I was really looking forward to this one. The acting, directing, concept and execution of this final entry are all spot on, and is without a doubt the strongest segment in the film. In fact, my only issue with this last short was that the ending fell a little flat.
As a whole, V/H/S: Viral feels like a pretty watered down effort. I do see the merit of giving new genre directors a chance to contribute to an anthology series, but I think it's time to abandon this format and find a new way to feature the work of upcoming film makers. And no, I don't mean I want to see the ABC's of Death 3. I mean it's time to stop trying to capitalize on a film by wringing every drop of originality out of it and turning every movie with a small modicum of success into a franchise. It is important to note that I don't think V/H/S: Viral is a very good indication of the talent level of the film's contributors. I'd tread carefully with this one, and in the meantime you ought to go seek out the other work of these talented directors. Cheers.
- Leo Francis