Spooky Movie Festival 2014: “V/H/S: Viral” reviewed

Posted by Michael Parsons on October 10, 2014 in , / 1 Comment


At this rate, the next installment of this popular horror anthology series will need to be called “V/H/S: WTF?”. Adding a third film to the grisly catalog, “V/H/S: Viral” breaks from the rules of the found-footage genre in hopes of giving ardent fanatics something new, and succeeds roughly half the time, the other half perhaps being too ambitious for its own good.

The films, thus far being composed of short stories shot in home-vid style, have been bound by a pretty traditional wraparound story: in 2012’s “V/H/S”, burglars come across a collection of shady home videos in a residence, and in last year’s “V/H/S 2” (the best of the lot), private investigators discover the creepy compendium while searching for a missing student.

VHS-VIRAL_FINISH-27x40_halfsize-691x1024The “wraparound” concept is taken quite literally in “Viral” with the Marcel Sarmiento-directed “Vicious Circles”, which involves a high-speed L.A. car chase that’s caught in a perpetual loop. The beauty and essence of found-footage is that most things get to be left unexplained, but the linchpin element here is so elusive and the story so convoluted that I nearly lost my patience before the first short was even introduced. A metaphor for the corrosive effects of our culture’s internet obsession, Sarmiento’s story frantically follows a YouTube-crazed young man as he scrambles to save his girlfriend from an ice cream truck that is being pursued by police, while various onlookers ravenously try to capture the event with their mobile devices.

Tone shifts dramatically and for the better with the first of the three central stories, which is much more mockumentary than found-footage. Gregg Bishop’s “Dante the Great” chronicles a Las Vegas magician (horror veteran Justin Welborn) and his murderous cape, thought to be an artifact once in the possession of Harry Houdini. The short vacillates between news clips, video cam and more traditional film making to tell the story of the sinister stage performer, who graduates from making rabbits disappear to eviscerating an entire S.W.A.T. team. Gory, fun and original.

“Parallel Monsters” is probably the best of the three, and the only one that takes any time to build suspense as it adheres most closely to the “rules” of yesteryear’s single-cam phenomenon. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (2007’s “Timecrimes” and the upcoming “Open Windows”), this segment observes a guy who’s successfully opened a gateway to a parallel dimension and his “bizarro” self. Things initially appear identical, but when the two decide to switch places for fifteen minutes, things get weird. Dread-inducing and uncomfortably humorous, like a particularly deranged episode of “Twilight Zone”.

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (2012’s “Resolution”) collaborate for the final segment called “Bonestorm”, an over-the-top video game of a flick that follows some ne’er-do-well skateboarder stereotypes on a trip to Tijuana with their videographer. Careless but mostly just stupid, the kids encounter a cult of skull-faced people whose vaguely satanic worshipping ground they’ve decided to use as their personal half-pipe. There are enough beheadings to satisfy gorehounds, but there’s little time for anything else when the kids fight an onslaught from the netherworld. Viewpoints shift so rapidly you’ll feel like you need to pop some Ritalin. Fun at first, but eventually almost as headache-inducing as “Vicious Circles”.

If you’re new to the series, look to “V/H/S” and the superior “V/H/S 2” for your Halloween comforts. But while “Viral” is easily the most erratic of the bunch, it still has something to offer: its Cronenberg-ian final revelation is grimly cautionary though likely only Sarmiento could explain its true meaning. Otherwise, when it comes out on Blu-ray, you can just dissect it for its two solid segments and call it a night.

“V/H/S Viral” screened opening night at the Spooky International Horror Film Festival.

Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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