V/H/S: Viral Dir. Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Nacho Vigalondo, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

[Magnet Releasing; 2014]

Styles: horror, found footage, anthology
Others: V/H/S, V/H/S/2, The ABCs of Death

Horror movie fans are as predictable and trusting as the characters that populate our beloved genre. The enthusiasm with which we’re willing to greet Hellraiser: Deader or Howling VII: Mystery Woman — like they were as acclaimed as Eyes Without a Face or The Shining — is nothing short of laughable. Why do we keep coming back? Is it habit? Obligation? Some insatiable bloodlust for gore and tits? So even though V/H/S and V/H/S/2 were both mixed bags that didn’t live up to the potential of the filmmakers behind them, I still jumped at the chance to review V/H/S: Viral.

The third entry in the found footage horror anthology series is here reduced to three short films and a frame narrative woven throughout. Unlike the previous entries, the frame narrative (“Vicious Circles,” directed by Marcel Sarmiento) does not act as a catalyst for introducing the shorts, but instead as a binding substance that gives a false cohesion to the feature. Essentially a dark take on kids chasing an ice cream truck (here it’s nightcrawlers chasing a mysterious and sinister vehicle), the segment features several tangents that serve as their own micro-films. This only serves to further splinter an already fragmented narrative, and the result is just chaotic and confusing.

The first proper short is “Dante the Great” (directed by Gregg Bishop), about a magician who comes across a cloak that allows him to perform real magic. Unsurprisingly, the cloak comes with a dark price. While it lacks any scares or horror (or originality in regards to plot), it’s at least willing to experiment with the found footage form and expand it to include a fake kind of VICE journalism.

Next comes “Parallel Monsters” (directed by Nacho Vigalondo), which concerns a man who builds a portal into an alternate world, and sets out to explore the ways in which it alternates from our own. While it’s able to justify its running time by revealing what it’s about in small trickles, that’s about all it does well. Once you understand what’s going on, “Parallel Monsters” is just more of the same eye rolls. The monster is essentially a gag from every Troma movie, except here it isn’t being played for laughs. This means that when the final reveal comes, it’s so juvenile that it completely removes you from the film.

The only respite from the depraved stupidity of the other segments lies with the final short, “Bonestorm” (directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead), which is the bastard child of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and The House of the Dead. In search of an undiscovered ditch in Tijuana, the skaters instead encounter a Mexican cult of the undead, and find themselves in a desperate struggle for survival. While the ensuing fight lacks the interesting and dynamic death scenes of say, Dead Alive, the editing and soundtrack instill the segment with enough invigorating energy to get your adrenaline going. “Bonestorm” also hosts the film’s most impressive makeup/SFX work, and is the most successful attempt yet to bridge the vicarious relationship between video games and found footage.

V/H/S: Viral suffers all the faults of its predecessors (too much After Effects and gore, not enough story), which are only compounded by increasingly weak ideas, and the missteps of this round of filmmakers. I fear fellow TMT-er Neurotic Monkey may have been wrong in the kicker of his review of V/H/S/2: Viral offers only fleetingly brief glimpses of promise, and the series may just be the next in a long tradition of horror series with diminishing returns.

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