Straight to D/V/D
By the time your horror franchise reaches its third chapter, you run the risk of simply repeating yourself. That’s not always a terrible thing (most of the Friday the 13th sequels are virtual remakes of their predecessors, but some of ‘em – like Part 4 and Part 6 – are actually pretty clever) but it certainly helps to throw in some new ideas amongst the typical franchise formula, and it’s nice to note that the indie V/H/S series has avoided redundancy.
It certainly helps that V/H/S is a series of anthology films, but there does seem to be a concerted effort at novelty, originality, and simple unpredictability where this trilogy is concerned; and while V/H/S: Viral is almost certainly the “lightest” entry so far, it still manages to offer two very cool stories, an admirably bizarre and energetic mini-story, and a “wrap-around” tale that doesn’t always work, but does offer two or three nice jolts along the way.
The framing story in V/H/S: Viral is more than a little confused and scattershot, but it gets us into story A and B with a minimal degree of delay. The first tale is about a low-end magician who discovers an evil cloak and uses it to become a world-famous super-illusionist… but of course there’s a price (cue ominous music). Directed by Gregg Bishop (Dance of the Dead), “Dante the Great” cheats more than a little on the “found footage” front, but in return you’ll get a nasty little horror short with some cool action and a great score.
Story #2 is about a man who builds a portal to another dimension, meets an alternate version of himself, and makes a decision that leads to truly horrible and creepy repercussions. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, “Parallel Monsters” feels slightly reminiscent of the director’s crazily clever Timecrimes, but this time we’re dealing with alternate dimensions instead of time travel. To divulge anything else about this story would be a disservice to the viewer; suffice to say it slowly becomes a sci-fi / horror / mind-twister that ends on an admirably disconcerting note.
Story #3 is a virtually plotless excursion into skateboarding and carnage from Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (whom you should remember from Resolution). Presented in a bleached-out, monochromatic style that somehow feels precisely like the year 1977, “Bonestorm” may be a bit too bizarre, grainy, or inaccessible to some viewers, but after a few minutes this short manages to achieve a sort of low-key yet epic vibe that is indicative of some real creativity by behind the camera.
Unfortunately V/H/S: Viral is not as filling as its predecessors. The framing story (directed by Deadgirl‘s Marcel Sarmiento) has a few inspired moments but sometimes just feels like a bunch of filler. And given that V/H/S: Viral runs only 77 minutes (without end credits), one cannot help but wonder what become of Todd Lincoln’s (The Apparition) segment. Although previously mentioned in the press release, Lincoln’s short is nowhere to be found in the final film, and one can even see where (in the framing story) it was supposed to begin. Maybe it’ll be on the DVD.
Bottom line: V/H/S: Viral is definitely the shortest (and perhaps the slightest) of the trilogy, but there’s still more than enough energy, creativity, and simple affection for scary stories here to keep genre fans happy.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)