Movie Review: V/H/S VIRAL – third in the series proves the law of diminishing returns is alive and well

VHS Viral

There are two reasons I watched V/H/S Viral, despite its lousy ratings: one being I’ve already watched the first two, so why not, and the other being that it contains a segment by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who wrote and directed the movies Resolution and Spring, both of which I rated highly.  Before I dig in, I’ll say that I’m likely not alone in thinking the series is hit or miss – and I guess when you’re working in an anthology format, with all different creators, it’s going to happen.  I mostly enjoyed the first movie, and the second one was notable only for the death-cult segment, Safe Haven.  Unfortunately, V/H/S Viral proves true the law of diminishing returns. 

There’s nothing in this movie that truly stands out in terms of quality, but there is a clear separation of bad from not-so-bad, so in order of quality, from worst to best, here we go!

Vicious Circles, written by T.J. Cimfel, David White, and Marcel Sarmiento, Directed by Sarmiento, is the story that bookends the anthology, and throughout the movie it’s unfolding story serves as dividers between the other stories.  This one is a real mess.  I’m no longer a young guy, but I can’t say I’ve ever been too interested in horror movies where young people are the targets of the bad stuff.  They mostly seem facile and uninteresting, and when you splice these qualities with the narcissism so evident in the today’s personal-fame obsessed under-30s, you get this segment.  It’s largely dull, poorly paced, rambling, and incoherent,  The slight story concerns some kind of digital broadcast signal that turns people crazy or something.  I guess it’s an attempt to make a statement about the digital age we live in, but it’s written and directed so poorly that I really couldn’t wait to get through the scenes just to get to the next story.  There have been a few movies about this kind of plot (Stephen King’s Cell comes to mind) – likely they’ll be better than this one Cell isn’t, by the way).

Dante The Great, written and directed by Gregg Bishop (Siren), is the first self-contained story of the movie, and while it’s a step up from Vicious Circles, it’s more annoying than anything else – it features the story of a talentless, low rent magician wannabe, who finds incredible fame and fortune when he acquires a powerful magic cloak.  The story itself seems much too gimmicky for this series of movies.  The others at least attempt to justify the found-footage subgenre (which I don’t hate), but this is mostly a story that you used to see in the show Tales From The Darkside, and even there it wouldn’t be any great episode.  The main character is an underwritten cypher, almost comically lacking in identity.  How he gets the cloak is an unanswered piece of detail that would have been nice, and I found it impossible to make the leap that when so many of his assistants disappear he’s somehow not the main suspect?  Huh?  I get you might only have 20 minutes or so to tell a story, but c’mon, get your shit together.

Bonestorm, the segment by Benson and Moorhead is actually the final tale, and the one I was most looking forward to, but while it’s an improvement over Dante The Great, I found myself mostly uninvolved.  The story is about four SoCal skateboarders who travel to Tijuana to shoot some skateboard footage, but it seems the most boring skateboarding footage of all time.  I’m no expert, but I’ve been impressed by some actual footage I’ve seen.  This segment contains stunts that any 13 year old could do, I’d bet, so right away the credibility of the characters was in peril.  Add that to the fact the characters themselves just seem stupid and one-note, once the horror (some kind of death cult, I guess) begins, I couldn’t really care less what happened to them.  It looks like it was probably the most fun of the segments to shoot, but it didn’t matter to me which of these dudes got offed or survived.  Hard to say whether Benson and Moorhead just couldn’t reduce a bigger concept satisfyingly enough, but with two enjoyable features under their belts I’ll give them a pass here.

Parallel Monsters is the best of the anthology, but now that I’m writing the review, I’m reminded of how it almost blows its nice concept with some gimmicky elements and FX.  I’m a sucker for parallel universes, and this story (chronologically the third, not counting the framing story) starts off pretty good as two characters meet via a shared portal and explore each other’s worlds.  The immediate weakness here is that we already know the other side of the portal is the one worth visiting, and there’s little effort made to at least try to show ours as interesting to the visitor who comes through our side.  The good thing is that the other side contains what I thought was a pretty great idea, but I was let down by revealing the natures of that other side’s inhabitants.  Most viewers will guess how it ends, and like me, they’re bound to feel a little let down by seeing the filmmakers go for the easy option.

All in all, V/H/S Viral is the least enjoyable of the franchise, and now there seems absolutely no reason for it to continue to exist.  I don’t recall seeing many VHS tapes in this movie at all – almost all of the found footage is recorded on personal devices or other digital recording devices, so it all seems a bit daft to continue under this branding.  I can see there being maybe one more entry here, but it already feels played out thanks to some really mediocre plots and paper-thin characters.

2.0/5.0

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