For those not in the know, V/H/S: Viral is the third film in the V/H/S anthology. As with the first two films, V/H/S: Viral has a loose overarching narrative, but the main draw is a series of horror shorts that play into the story and are seen by both the audience and the main characters. The whole series makes liberal use of found footage techniques, and finds an excuse for just about every character to be holding onto some sort of camcorder or GoPro-style camera.
While the original V/H/S struggled with having shorts that were too long, V/H/S 2 perfected the amount and length of the shorts, but a common criticism across both was that the overarching story was the weakest part of the film. Although some explanations existed for those who looked closely enough at each film, the reasons why the short film tapes the main characters find and watch were ever made and planted to be found, not to mention who made and planted them, was largely unexplored territory. V/H/S: Viral tries to connect and explain the reasoning behind all the tapes and why they cause horrible things to happen. Unfortunately, it also showcases some of the series’ worst shorts to date.
V/H/S: Viral’s overarching story follows Kev (Patrick Lawrie), who is obsessed with filming Iris (Emilia Zoryan) every moment they’re together. One night as the couple watches police chase an ice cream van on the news, Kev realizes it is close by and wishes to film it. Iris playfully mocks him and asks if Kev thinks that whatever he films will go viral? Kev responds with, “Haven’t you ever wanted to be a part of something bigger than you?” As Kev goes outside to film, images flash on Iris phone and she wanders outside. Kev watches as the ice cream truck smashes through a cop and as he catches his breath he receives a call from Iris crying and asking for his help, as she is now in the back of the ice cream van. Kev hops on a bike and begins chase after the van as the first short starts to play.
In order to keep this somewhat short, between every short we see more of Kev and how his attempts to rescue Iris are going. V/H/S: Viral does something different and begins to have short horror segments (entitled “Vicious Circle”) within the overarching story itself. What follows are very loose, short stores that involve someone or a group of people dying by absurd ways. It seems that wherever the ice cream truck goes, death and horrible things follow.
Now to be clear, when I said V/H/S: Viral offers the “worst shorts,” I don’t mean they were particularly cheap or sloppily filmed; rather, they don’t provoke the sense of dread the original films did. They are entertaining pieces of work, sometimes more funny or amusing, but compared to the previous works in the series, they lack any sense of terror. For the best example, you only need to look at the first short entitled “Dante the Great.”
“Dante the Great” follows the story of Scarlet Key (Emmy Argo), the newest assistant to Dante the Great (Justin Welborn). Dante is a famous magician who is about to be charged with the disappearance and possible murder of his previous assistants. “Dante the Great” is an odd piece to start off with because it is presented more as a mockumentary rather than found footage. Throughout “Dante the Great” we see interviews with Dante as well as footage from his own security cameras and what seems like hundreds of cameras set up in his theater. Despite these gripes and questions, the biggest grievance I had with “Dante” was the laughable acting Welborn provided as the psychopathic magician. While the idea of a magical cape and psychotic magician do have a nice Twilight Zone feel, they are handled poorly to the point that they become absurd. Between over-the-top gore, awful CGI, and a laughable end fight, “Dante the Great” starts V/H/S: Viral in the wrong direction. It unfortunately doesn’t end there as we jump back to Kev.
The second short that plays is called “Parallel Monsters” and involves a scientist named Alfonso (Gustavo Salmeron) who opens a portal to a parallel universe where he meets another version of himself. The doppelganger and Alfonso agree to swap universes for fifteen and begin to explore the other’s house. While this short has a very interesting premise and creates some nice tension by showing small details that make the alternate universe seem “off,” it ultimately falls flat by the final reveal. In fact, if you watch the red band trailer, you’ll see the twist and wonder if they were joking when you watch the full short. Despite its disappointing ending, “Parallel Monsters” does a lot right within the V/H/S universe; in fact, there is one detail (which I won’t spoil here) that has even haunted me the past few nights.
The third and final short, entitled “Bonestorm” follows four teenage skaters as they travel to Tijuana to finish their skate video. The four boys bring a youthful vigor to V/H/S: Viral as the SoCal skaters mock each other and fool around while trying to film their video. Things go to hell when the boys accidentally summon a death cult and must try to escape. All of the skaters have GoPros attached to their heads and boards so we are given a plethora of views to see the death and gore that surrounds them. If you enjoyed Doom’s first person scene or have ever wondered what watching a first person shooter/survival flick would look like you need only to watch “Bonestorm.” It may have references to other shorts from previous V/H/S stories and have bloody onscreen depictions of something gone horribly wrong but it doesn’t have the same build up or knowledge that these characters could indeed die and that would affect the whole group.
Within my viewing of “Bonestorm” I found myself wondering who had edited this short within the V/H/S universe because even though GoPros were present, some of the shots were slowed down and others were colored corrected. If we are to believe that this is found footage, why are there moments that seem purposefully edited in a way to show off how “cool” a killing shot may look? It is done in a way that causes the viewer to question the V/H/S universe and not just the filmmakers involved. The same could be said with all the shorts within the overarching story (“Vicious Circles”). Who or how are these videos being watched and what edited these shorts? While the previous films made it vibrantly clear as to who was watching what tapes, V/H/S: Viral takes the exact opposite route and leaves more questions then what it tries to answer. These abstract questions take away from the overall story as well as the established universe of the previous V/H/Ss in the series.
The Verdict: 2 out of 5
While having some genuinely good premises to them, most of the shorts fall flat and do not compare well to the previous shorts in the V/H/S series. Although there are some entertaining parts, most of the shorts end up being more ridiculous than scary. What brief scares there are to have are quickly pushed aside by sloppy story telling and disappointing overarching narrative. If you are a fan of the series, I would recommend skipping this one altogether, as there is nothing that pushes the V/H/S mythos forward. If you’re new to V/H/S and enjoy the found footage genre, check out the far superior V/H/S 2 currently streaming on Netflix.