The third and final entry in the V/H/S franchise, Viral, is the most ambitious in scope; though slightly undercut by it’s budget. The entire series has been divisive among horror fans, but the general consensus is that Viral is awful. This word of mouth is why I put off watching it for the past couple years, which is odd, because I really liked the first two V/H/S films a lot. At about ten minutes into Viral, I was hooked, and chalked the negative reviews up to typical internet backlash.
I’d consider the wrap-around story, Vicious Circles, to be the best of the wrap-around of the series; even if it does fall a little flat in the finale. In it, a young couple are obsessed with making viral videos and find themselves in a downward spiral while filming an on-going car chase. It sets the tone and pace of the film, which is much quicker than the previous two. As the focus is on viral videos, the quicker pace is a sensible choice. I really liked quite a bit of the imagery in this segment, such as hostage tied to the back of an ice cream truck being dragged to death while the ice cream jingle plays on. Directed by Marcel Darmiento, who previously helmed Deadgirl, and D is for Dogfight from ABC’s of Death (one of that film’s better segments), Vicious Circles doesn’t quite have the punch in the payoff that the director was going for but I appreciated that he aimed so high for it.
The first story, Dante the Great, is about the titular character and the news story about his recent arrest. Spliced in with the news reports is an interrogation room interview with one of Dante’s assistants with whom he had a romantic relationship. Dante has a magic cloak that allows him to preform real feats of magic, but at a price. The cloak requires sacrifices and a number of his former assistants were used for that purpose. The highlight of this segment is Dante using his magic to take out an entire swat team. The budget for this does show at times, but they really did a great job with the editing and chirography to bring forth the scenes of kinetic frenzy as Dante dispatches them. Dante the Great was directed by Gregg Bishop, of Dance of the Dead fame.
Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo helms the second segment, Parallel Monster. In it, a young scientist opens up a door in his basement which leads into a parallel universe. The door allows him to meet an alternate version of himself. The two doppelgangers decide to change roles for fifteen minutes; and this has disastrous results. The parallel universes aren’t what either man expected, to say the least. Some of the special effects are a bit shoddy, and silly (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it). All in all, this is probably my favorite segment in the film, even if some of it isn’t fully explained (not that it needed to be).
Finally, we have Bonestorm, about a group of stoned skateboarders trying to make the perfect viral video who decide to head down to Tijuana to film it. The end up lost in a drainage ditch to film their exploits, completely ignoring the pentagram surrounded by candles with animal feces in it’s center. After one of the boarder scrapes his hand and ends up bleeding on the ritual, they end up summoning strange cultist zombies who look like something straight out of The Blind Dead. The rest of the segment is the kids using the opportunity to make a viral video by destroying the zombies. It doesn’t go as well as they’d expect. The zombie cultists are very creepy to look at and have a great presence as they continually chant and appear at random while taking on the kids.
I think a lot of the critical reaction to Viral has to do with it’s former creators not returning for it. Adam Winguard and Joe Swanberg were especially missed by me. Another thing that I feel kept it from getting much love is that this is the lowest budget of the series and quickly slap-dashed together. The quicker pace is much different tonally from the previous two, and is why it’s called “Viral” instead of “VHS III“. The directors only had a week to film Viral in it’s entirety, which makes the segments themselves have more of a kinetic, cheap feel, much like a viral video would. I think this concept was lost on many viewers. I think the filmmakers did the absolute best they could with what they had for the goals they wished to achieve. I enjoyed this film a lot, and hope the series is resurrected at some point.