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‘V/H/S: Viral’ Review: Mildly Entertaining But Not At All Scary

vhs viral

The latest installment in the V/H/S horror anthology franchise released its latest installment, V/H/S: Viral, last week on VOD with an official theater release set for November 21. Viral has a total of four shorts, one of them being the standard wrap around, and this collection of directors and writers consists of Nacho Vigalondo (Open Windows), Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl, “D is for Dogfight”), Gregg Bishop (The Other Side, Dance of the Dead), Aaron Scott Moorhead and Justin Benson (Resolution, upcoming horror-romance film Spring). Let’s pop that VHS tape in and get to reviewin’!

Vicious Circles

“It’s going in circles on purpose!”

An ice cream truck leads police on a merry chase around a neighborhood, gleefully running people over at high speeds like something out of GTA. For whatever reason, a bunch of people start thinking this is going to be their big viral break – never mind that this is a highly public event that’s most definitely already being recorded and reported on by journalists so there’s not much of a chance anything they record would be the never-before-seen type of footage that would go viral. Especially when the gore looks that fake.

Naturally, because this is a horror short and the plot can’t just be limited to “ice cream truck driver goes on massacre before inevitably running out of gas,” there’s something evil going on here. The would-be viral videographers are getting weird messages on their phones, dragging them out into the street and into the path of the truck. The short is also interspersed with old everyday footage of various characters laughing and fighting, as well as one man’s desperate search for his girlfriend during the madness. This is all presumably to get viewers to care about them as people. Doesn’t work.

Much like the wrap-around shorts in V/H/S and V/H/S/2, “Vicious Circles” is pretty weak. Being that most of the short is filmed on cell phones, Go Pros, and handheld cameras, the shakiness is as nausea inducing as ever, which makes it even harder to get into it. There’s probably some sort of message in here about society’s fascination with broadcasting and recording our lives rather than actually experiencing them (insert a thousand think pieces on why you shouldn’t record concerts here), but I was too busy yawning to care. At one point, someone says dreamily, “Haven’t you ever wanted to be a part of something bigger than you?” Like… recording an ice cream truck mowing police officers down?

Directed by: Marcel Sarmiento
Rating: one and a half stars

Dante The Great

“Ta-da.”

“Dante The Great” is presented like a documentary, with clips from interviews, news coverage, police interrogations, magic show DVD footage, etc. all combining to tell the story of an aspiring magician who somehow gets his hands on a demonic cloak that once belonged to Harry Houdini. With the help of the cloak, Dante is able to pull off real and fantastical magic, and he instantly becomes famous.

The catch, of course, is that the cloak requires blood sacrifice.

I absolutely loved this one. It might be on par with V/H/S/2‘s much-lauded “Safe Haven” to me in terms of entertainment value and rewatchability, and is definitely one of my favorites in this franchise. It is, admittedly, not very scary, and the goriness is at an average level (though no less vicious). But “Dante The Great” is, well, great. The way the story develops is enthralling, and the big showdown in the short’s grand finale is nothing short of magical.

Directed by: Gregg Bishop
Rating:
 four and a half stars

Parallel Monsters

vhsviral

“I’m walking in a universe next to mine. It’s like being in my own home. Everything is the same… This is not the same.”

A man’s invention creates a portal to an alternate universe, where it seems an identical version of himself has done the exact same thing at the exact same moment. The two of them meet, trade stories, and, wanting to explore the differences in their lives, decide to swap universes as well for a period of fifteen minutes. You can probably guess where they’re going with this.

“Parallel Monsters” is a little bit weird and a lotta bit insane. I’d say more but this is one that’s best watched without spoilers, and practically anything else I could say about this would classify as a spoiler. I will say this: I’m still not entirely sure that I liked it, and the few answers we actually get about the Other World – though clearly by design – still left me vexed, but despite all that, “Parallel Monsters” is nothing if not memorable.

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Rating: 
three stars

Bonestorm

“Our creature will be unleashed.”

A group of douchey skater bros and the equally douchey guy they hired to film their escapades decide to go on a road trip for alcohol, weed, and a skate park that won’t kick them out for being douchebags. They find one in a conveniently secluded ditch in Tijuana… that just so happens to be scattered with vaguely worrying artifacts like a shrine, animal sacrifices, Satanic symbols painted all over the ground, etc. Add in a Mexican cult, flammable blood, and undead skeleton creatures bent on murder, and you’ve got “Bonestorm.”

It’s an alright short. I spent the majority of it waiting for the violence to start, but once it did I actually found myself wanting to go back to the annoying-but-somehow-still-likeable skaters talking trash and doing shitty tricks. Thanks to the action scenes being filmed primarily with GoPros, the camera shakiness hit nauseating levels way too fast, it was difficult to tell what was going on at times, and there’s only so much of the zoomed in close-ups on the skaters’ confused, drunken, terrified faces that I can take.

(Unrelated: “Bonestorm” gets major bonus points in my heart for the soundtrack. Using Cage songs for the skateboarding montages? Inspired.)

Directed by: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Rating: three stars

V/H/S: Viral

“This shit’s gonna go viral.”

Though I can’t say I liked them all, most of Viral‘s individual shorts are interesting enough on their own. This can be considered a win for any anthology film, let alone the V/H/S franchise whose inconsistencies in quality from short to short are well known by now. It’s interesting to note that Viral seems to have abandoned the pretense of interconnectedness; where previous installments presented flimsy background stories to explain why and how these tapes were being viewed, Viral is just a straightforward anthology of short films with zero explanation. There are no tie-ins in terms of characters, plot, or themes… unless you count bloody mayhem, murder, and horror, I guess.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, but unfortunately it does highlight the nonsensical pointlessness of “Vicious Circles” as a wrap-around short. Still, Viral is an entertaining enough way to pass an hour, and it’s definitely worth watching just for “Dante The Great” alone.

Overall Rating: 

three stars