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.
The “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.