Directed by Justin Benson
In the dark of the night, an ice cream truck whizzes down the parkway, trailed by a parade of police cars. On the streets, pedestrians look on, hoping to catch a glimpse of the panicked scene, only to find the chaos coming to them: Violence, death and dread are spreading across the city, seemingly fueled by a digital phantasm lurking in each pedestrian’s cellphone. But as the bloodshed begins, it becomes clear that there’s only more fear on the way.
This frightening scene opens “V/H/S: Viral,” though it’s only one of four horror tales that the film offers. The movie is the third installment in the “V/H/S” collection, which specializes in providing viewers with short, often grisly horror films. The only requirement: They must be shot in found-footage style, resembling raw or amateur footage. Making use of camcorders, surveillance cameras and GoPros, “V/H/S: Viral” does a good job sticking to this aspect of the series and offers a spooky, though often laughable, jaunt into the horror genre.
“V/H/S: Viral” opens with “Vicious Circles,” which acts as the central narrative of the collection. Following a nameless cameraman, audiences watch as his girlfriend, Iris (Emila Zoryan), is abducted by the aforementioned ice cream truck, sending him on a violent and panicked chase. As his chase ensues, it is broken up by other short horror tales, each beginning after a moment of static, maintaining the illusion that each story is a VHS being played. These tales include a demonic, murderous magician; a horrible, inter-dimensional mishap; and a group of skaters who find themselves as the subjects of a vicious death cult. This variety is welcome and, by design, eliminates the potential boredom of an overly long narrative.
However, these brief horror moments do vary in quality, ranging from exquisite horror to corny attempts at the genre. “Vicious Circles” is most guilty of this corniness, with a grand portion consisting of the cameraman speeding around on a bike attempting to catch the runaway truck. This chase is initially harrowing, but ultimately loses its impact and robs the film of tension.
Thankfully, the other segments prove much stronger. “Parallel Monsters,” which follows a man who crafts a inter-dimensional rift in his basement and discovers an evil, demented, twin universe, which is perhaps the strongest of the bunch, serving as an eerie yet hilarious story. It’s rife with blood, gore and toothed genitalia, and by its finish may leave viewers as repulsed as they are humored.
For lovers of blood and gore, “V/H/S: Viral” delivers in spades. For its short, 81-minute run time, the film provides buckets upon buckets of blood. Be it the crushing of a skull with a skateboard or a brutal stabbing with a kitchen knife, each short brings with it a creative and gruesome approach to violence. In a more serious collection of films, this may hinder the narrative’s quality, but when placed alongside the tongue-in-cheek approach “V/H/S: Viral” takes, it fits in perfectly and provides the needed bit of spectacle to keep the films engaging.
The execution of the film’s found-footage aesthetic is pulled off well, for the most part. The film makes some refreshing choices when taking on this filming style, integrating traffic cams and GoPros to produce the video. However, the film does sometimes stray from this aesthetic, with lens flare and similar effects causing shots to feel overly cinematic in the film’s context. Perhaps this can be attributed to the rising quality of these handheld devices, though it ultimately makes the collection feel a bit confused, as if the cinematographers struggled to decide exactly what visual style they were hoping to achieve.
All visual qualms aside, “V/H/S: Viral” succeeds in providing viewers a darkly humorous and gore-ridden ride through the horror genre. Style may falter, and some stories may prove forgettable, but the collection ultimately supplies horror fans with the fear, blood and gore to keep them engaged until the very last, twisted second.