V/H/S: Viral (dir. Various)

Posted: October 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

Anthology films are tough.  You’re essentially taking a bunch of short films and perhaps loosely tying them together to make a single filmic experience.  Sometimes the same writer and/or director does all the segments, but more often they are done by disparate artists, resulting in a product that can be uneven in tone, quality, message, or subject matter.   Most anthology films tend to be in the horror genre (“Four Rooms” being a non-horror example that stands out in my mind), and even the best films of this genre (arguably “Creepshow” 1 & 2) don’t work from beginning to end.  The fun of these films is the surprise.  You often don’t know what the stories will be, or what order they will come in.  Plus, if you don’t like one segment, you don’t necessarily know the entire movie sucks.  Just sit back and wait for the next one.

The “V/H/S” franchise is the latest attempt to revitalize this stagnant genre (“The ABCs of Death” was largely garbage, and “Trick ‘r’ Treat” suffered from being left on the shelf too long), and so far the results have been at times interesting and innovative, but mostly disappointing.  Sure, the idea of making all of the segments Found Footage (a horror subgenre that seems to be in its death throes now but was all the rage 2-3 years ago) and finding new ways to film old tropes (like Zombies or Alien Abductions) was invigorating, but we’ve never gotten anything from these films that has really blown me out of the way.  If I had to pick my favorite segment from any anthology film ever, I’d choose “The Raft” segment from “Creepshow 2”, based on a short story by Stephen King.  Any time I watch one of these films, I’m hoping to be blown away like that.

So now, after two mediocre “V/H/S” films, we have our third film, “V/H/S/: Viral”.  Right off the bat we know we’re in trouble, because our frame story, the recurring one that ties all the other stories together, doesn’t make a lick of sense.  The previous two films were about people finding collections of VHS tapes, and the content of those tapes were the segments of the film.  Great! In this film we get a guy who wants to film an ice cream truck leading the cops on a high-speed chase, while a weird viral video pops up on random people’s phones making them go crazy (shades of King’s novel “Cell” and the non-anthology but one-story-by-three-directors film “The Signal” here).  How this ties in the other segments I don’t know, nor is this frame story ever tied up in a way which explains anything.  It only serves to be an attempt at commenting on people wanting to be famous online by making Youtube videos, and our over-recorded culture.  It fails at social commentary.  There is one scene that is a sort-of comment on Bangbus and Revenge Porn that works in and of itself, but it’s kind of separate from the main action and is way too short. The frame story alone gets a D.

Our first non-frame segment isn’t really horror.  Entitled “Dante the Great”, it’s about a redneck wannabe magician who comes into possession of a magician’s cloak that will allow to perform real magic (mostly being able to fly, make others fly, or I guess create tiny wormholes to take things from long distances out of the cloak), as long as you allow the cloak to kill other people.  This sounds like it could horror, but the segment (which is more fake documentary than found footage, exactly) plays more like a superhero movie ala “Chronicle” meets “Now You See me”.  It’s kind of fun, but I was hoping a magic segment in a horror anthology would feel more like “Lord of Illusions”. C+

The second segment is the best one of the film. “Parallel Monsters” is brought to us by director Nacho Vigalondo, who made “Timecrimes”, and his segment feels similar.  Instead of time travel, this one is about alternate universes (think “Sliders”).  A man builds a doorway to a different universe, and on the other side is that universe’s version of himself, who has also built a doorway.  The other man’s house appears to be an exact mirror version of the first man’s, and they both agree to explore the other man’s universe for 15 minutes before returning back.  The other man’s universe seems to take place in some weird Satanic version of our own, and things get weird once the first man runs into the other universe’s version of his wife.  Without spoiling anything, I will say the segment almost falls apart at the end, when we’re introduced to “Tromeo and Juliet”-esque monster genitalia.  Still, this was fun, well-made, bizarre short that I wouldn’t have minded being longer. B+

Lastly, we get “Bonestorm” (named after the fake video game from “The Simpsons”?).  This is a rather boring and too-shaky-cam-shot segment about skater teens going to Tijuana to skate for a video they’re making, and are beset upon by cultish skeleton people.  It’s boring, the characters are annoying, and the gore is hampered by the horrible camera work. D

Apparently, there was a fourth segment that may have screened at one or two film festivals, called “Gorgeous Vortex”, that was cut from the final film for reasons yet unknown.  It was apparently about a cult and people who hunt down serial killers, or something.  The details aren’t really fully out there, but it got decent notices and possibly had a sci-fi bent. The cutting this segment means that “Viral”, in total, only runs a scant 81 minutes.

Perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh on this film if I hadn’t just watched the long shelved “The Poughkeepsie Tapes”, an uneven but interesting found footage film that has been shelved for 7 years, likely due to MGM’s financial troubles (much like the awesome “Cabin in the Woods” was).  That film, half fake-documentary and half found-footage, knows how to do found footage well, even if the actors in the documentary portion are pretty awful and couldn’t pull off the cadences of normal speech.  In three “V/H/S” films, we’ve gotten maybe four good segments, tops, out of three frame stories and twelve proper segments.  We’ll probably keep getting films in this series.  Let’s hope they get better.

Overall Grade:  C-

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