V/H/S: Viral (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
27Feb/152

V/H/S: Viral (2014)

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A dangerous chase led by an ice cream truck leads pedestrians out of their homes to try to film the chaos and go viral.  Dante used to be a trailer park joke until he exploded into the entertainment industry with unexplainable feats of magic.  Two dimensions cross in the basement of a burgeoning scientist.  A group of teenagers looking to make a skateboard video cross the border for a change of landscape.  These are the stories of V/H/S: Viral, the latest in the anthology series.

Likes to go firstA bit of good news about V/H/S: Viral - it's not a totally miserable experience.  The gender politics and sporadic qualities of each short in the previous two installments left me angry and unsatisfied.  They weren't without their high points though, the original V/H/S had the intriguing story of a quarreling couple's trip interrupted by a stalker who films threats of violence to their sleeping bodies.  V/H/S/2 had the unrelenting horror of a foreign other becoming angry with interfering Americans and becoming demons to eliminate them.

With Viral here to wrap up the trilogy, much of the horror is gone.  Perhaps each director has taken their queue from Adam Wingard then gone from the unsatisfying straight-ahead horror we saw in his V/H/S shorts and to a goofy thriller with horror elements as we saw in The Guest.  There's a stronger sense of humor and play in Viral, stemming from the fact that "viral" in this case encompasses a lot of electronic media and leaves the directors room to play around a bit.

Each film still fits within a specific framework though, as the participants are all trying to go viral in different ways.  It's to Viral's credit each short does not feel as repetitive as the previous installments.  Returning from the previous shorts, however, is the sense each film is about a heteronormative Christian male experience under attack from the unstoppable spread of globalization.  Each of Viral's shorts stems from a man who just wants to find success, and is stopped because of an other.  Women, foreigners, different religions, and technology all threaten the white male dominance and from Viral's view, it can't be stopped.  This may be interesting fodder for some academic papers, but as a viewing experience it becomes as deadening as the other films.

As a break from pure disappointment, there are some neat camera tricks that "teleport" characters from inside this car to the outside in a single take.

As a break from pure disappointment, there are some neat shots which teleport characters from inside this car to the outside in a single take.

Praise where it's due, and a change of pace from the previous two installments, the wraparound story, Various Circles, is the strongest of Viral and had some genuine creepy moments.  Director Marcel Sarmiento allows his protagonist's horror to build gradually as chaos spreads through the city with its inhabitants trying to glimpse a high-speed chase.  While the man on the bike tries to warn people to stop filming, a very Soylent Green-esque touch, we're constantly reminded via intruding blurry cuts of the girlfriend he ignored to try to film something which could go viral.  The conclusion's setup is harrowing, even if the result doesn't seem that bad by ending male dominance over all media with the switch.

But this is where my ethics conflate with the execution, and much like the other two films Viral has a problem with being "aware" they're exploiting women and still doing it all the same.  The girlfriend of the protagonist of Various Circles smiles every time he sticks his camera down her shirt or tries to get a glimpse between her legs.  Her dialogue reveals some displeasure at this, "I love it when you record me.  No, I love it, I really do," delivered with little sincerity.  So when she becomes a specter it's because he's been ignoring her.  This begs the question, does she prefer being exploited to her boyfriend filming chases?  While there's a legit case to be made for the pleasures of being filmed / painted and so on, the way she is exploited is typically concealed and is echoed through the remaining shorts.  Sat alongside the semi-aware misogyny of the other two V/H/S films, and I realize it's just more of the same disappointment.

This fear of being replaced with the other partly due to viral technology is replicated in the remaining shorts.  In Gregg Bishop's Dante the Great, the threat comes from women trying to get an equal place in the entertainment industry.  For Nacho Vigalondo's Parallel Monsters it's the idea there could be a world where Satan is worshiped instead of Christ.  Then in Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's Bonestorm, the threat is right across the border where Mexican monsters need our blood to usher in a new age.

This welcoming scene comes before the reverse-crucifix blimp, as if we needed more of a hint that something is not right in this world.

This welcoming scene comes before the inverted crucifix blimp, as if we needed more of a hint something is not right in this world.

Each film's style is crisp, and presented for flash rather than the lo-fi scares of the previous films.  The problem with this is the entertainment is split with the horror, or the horrific ideas anyway, and come off flat.  Dante is shot and edited with talking heads and punchy music like an exciting episode of Unsolved Mysteries, Parallel Monsters like a lost story from the science fiction show Sliders, and Bonestorm like a mash-up of Tony Hawk and first person shooter video games (the video game aesthetic matches the reference from the title).  Each works within the viral idea of electronic tendrils reaching further to infect men, but aren't scary or entertaining.  One shot in Parallel Monsters almost forced me to stop the film from incredulity when it showed a giant inverted crucifix on a blimp to provide more hints about the evil in the parallel world (as if the blood rituals weren't enough).

Watching Viral you have to remember there's a fine line between expressing the anxieties of a culture to comment on them versus reproducing them wholesale.  The Mexican cultists of Bonestorm are the worst example of this, mixing demonic language and skeletal body paint to threaten the bros just out to film a rad video.  Once again, all the nudity comes from women, and are either demonic threats or unwelcome intrusions who need to be punished.  The protagonists aren't nearly as vile in previous films, so the evil they face is far more disproportionate to what they may or may not deserve.

Some of the best films over the last few years have dealt with the fallout of the financial crisis and men feeling their status in the world threatened.  Take Shelter and Blue Ruin, both more horrific than anything in all three V/H/S films, comment on the toxic influence of this male-dominated thinking and not just reflecting those fears.  The V/H/S never took the next step, creating a cycle of fear and how one creates the other, instead of just presenting a bunch of jerks with demons to fight.  I'll be there in the unlikely event a fourth film is released, but Viral puts this series to sleep.

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Tail - VHS ViralV/H/S: Viral (2014)

An anthology of horror films directed by Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Nacho Vigalondo, Justin Benson, and Aaron Moorhead.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Good review Andrew. Definitely the weakest of the entries, but still has its moment of fun and excitement. Even if they come every so often.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan. While I’ve hated each V/H/S entry, this one does have more zip to it, which is what gives the framing narrative more punch.


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