There comes a point in every series, in which some (or all) of the magic that made a franchise’s first entry so fun to latch onto. When 2012’s V/H/S hit, it showcased a cool concept of various horrible stories playing out on videotapes that hoodlums watched. The following year, V/H/S/2 took the same approach, added a wrap around story of private investigators watching the tapes to figure out where a missing man was and each segment was all killer, no filler to say the least. V/H/S/2 trimmed any fat that the first film had, and provided a solid and very entertaining entry into the anthology series. This year’s V/H/S: VIRAL continues the tradition set by the first two films, but unfortunately lacks most of the magic that the first two films had, giving viewers an uneven and very questionable experiences.
VIRAL begins with a young couple fooling around, and the boyfriend insisting on filming everything, in hopes of being the next big viral star. When he sees a speeding ice cream truck being chased by cops, he sees it as a perfect opportunity to film it, and become YouTube’s next big thing. Almost instantly, his girlfriend goes missing, and he begins to chase the truck to see what happened.
We’re then taken to the film’s first segment, “Dante The Great“, directed by DANCE OF THE DEAD helmer, Gregg Bishop. Telling the tale of a magician seduced power after acquiring a magical cape once owned by Houdini. Little by little, the magician begins to become more and more sinister, and most of the segment is shown from the perspective of police tapes of interviews from Dante’s assistant, as well as videos shot by the magician for documentation.
“Dante The Great” is the perfect start to show viewers how different VIRAL is from the others, and also the best way to show how odd the entire film is. The first two films in the series might have had a weak segment here or there, but the plot and overall story of the film’s made sense, unlike VIRAL, which has impressive segments here and there, but none of them feel like they fit in the film they’re in. If watched as just a short film at a festival or online, “Dante The Great” would work well, as Justin Welborn’s performance is, like every performance of his, just great. It’s the feeling of the segment not belonging in the film and some of the filming choices (I could swear that there were a couple of sequences that we’re even being “filmed” by anybody, feeling just like a standard film) that takes you out of it.
When the announcement of TIMECRIMES director Nacho Vigalondo being added to the roster of VIRAL directors, many people were ecstatic, as TIMECRIMES was undeniably one of the sci-fi films of all time. His segment, “Parallel Monsters” not only succeeds at feeling like it belongs in the film, but provides an entertaining and somewhat scary story, regarding a man successfully creating a portal to an alternate universe. At first drawn to what might be on the other side, the man sees his alternate self, doing exactly the same as he is, and the two versions of himself agree to enter each other’s reality to see how different it is, a choice that is instantly a bad one. It’s a visually interesting and moody segment, that feels like it could benefit from being a feature film, as you want to see more of the alternate world that the man stumbles upon and its cult-ish insanity.
Following up “Parallel Monsters“, RESOLUTION co-directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s “Bonestorm” closes out the segments before heading back into the wraparound’s conclusion. “Bonestorm” follows a group of punk skaters trying to make a skate video and not being pleased with any of the locations their paid cameraman is finding for them. Benson and Moorhead are able to tap into that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude of being young and skating that as a young teenage, I felt close to. They have a knack of writing realistic characters and that’s great for the segment’s first half, but when the group head into Mexico and stumble onto a Mexican death cult, instead of heading into a terrifying and dangerous approach, the boys are still acting like they’re badasses and not caring in the middle of dealing with their lives possibly being taken. It’s the segment that is easiest to latch onto, and as expected, you’re able to suspend any disbelief because of how nonchalant the characters are, regarding being attacked by a cult. It’s both fortunate and unfortunate, as both Benson and Moorhead are one of the most talented duos working in genre films today, and if placed as a standalone segment “Bonestorm” is great, even if the overall film suffers more than it doesn’t. Easily one of the more enjoyable segments.
When the film wraps up, it’s almost a must to just sit back and wonder where the magic and creativity (and scares) of the first two films went, because V/H/S: VIRAL really fails at delivering much of an experience, despite having very capable and talented filmmakers involved. If each segment was a part of a something entirely different from each other, they would work on some levels, but thrown together into a V/H/S sequel, you’ll find yourself confused more than entertained.