The anthology film is by its very nature a pick n’ mix and thus a hard nut to crack (changing tastes and all that), although the likes of Trick ‘r’ Treat and the original V/H/S show it is possible. And after the unfortunately uneven V/H/S/2 (Gareth Evans’ Safe Haven was a cracker though), hopes were relatively high for this third outing in the V/H/S series. V/H/S: Viral had the potential to either be a great jump to Internet culture for the nostalgia-based found footage anthology series, or would maybe play out like a less funny episode of Rude Tube. Sadly it ends up as neither because (maybe there is some misunderstood, genre-transforming classic here but) all we saw was a complete mess of a film. The talented minds behind VHS: Viral and the new age direction (a little at odds with the core concept admittedly) promised bravado but the film mistakes bravado for bullshit.
The main story, if you can place it under that definition, sees Kevin (Patrick Lawrie) obsess over filming his girlfriend Iris (Emilia Zoryan), and as a passing media showered police car chase takes place Kevin sees his chance for fame, only for some unexplained things to start happening. In-between this, the film plays 3 short films - Dante the Great, Parallel Monsters and Bonestorm. Shame then that though ideas are sprinkled throughout, this whole film is a shoddily assembled allegory on the modern day pursuit of viral fame, which in the end makes little to no sense. In distorting the narrative to an irksome degree like this, a film needs a reason for doing so or a payoff that leaves you thinking. In the case of VHS: Viral there is no endgame, everything is done in pursuit of making the film “cool” or “shocking” but it is just all over the place… and not in a good way.
Screen distortion and found footage (though this film is not really “found” footage) go together like inflated ego and Kanye West but this sequel abuses the technique in the first 5 minutes. It is a hand to be played at certain times for a particular effect, but like everything else here it all feels like a desperate attempt to give the film edge and grit (and makes no sense considering these cameras being digital), and by the end of its 81-minute duration (which drags) you are more vexed by the film than you are entertained. The worst offender is Marcel Sarmiento’s (D is For Dogfight in The ABCs of Death) wraparound Vicious Circles, which features hardly any characterisation and no coherence. As well as simply pointless scenes of padding that don’t even lead into the short films. There are so many talented people at work here that it is heartbreaking to behold a film that is like a jigsaw where all the pieces are the wrong size.
Anthologies are bound to be random but must at least adhere (as the past two V/H/S films did) to a universal theme. In the case of this franchise it should be the chosen found footage approach - by all means risks ought to be taken but the first short Dante the Great right off the bat rebels against the unwritten laws of the series. It feels too polished, abandons the bite that makes V/H/S work, and although there is genuinely interesting story potential here, it is scuppered by the fact Dante does not fit in and feels partially developed. That is followed by the initially intriguing sci-fi/horror Parallel Monsters, which has a promising start before descending into an unintentionally comical shadow of the creepy cultish trappings of Safe Haven. It comes over like an eroticised rip-off of The Thing (sarlaac-like penises and monstrous minges notwithstanding) and yet still feels tame. And then there is Bonestorm that is as if an Army of Darkness fan and MTV viewer saw Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and thought “lets do this, it’ll be easy”. Promising POV skater camera shots cannot redeem hateful characters, a half-cooked story and recycled gags.
It feels cruel to attack a film that took only 7 days to shoot but it shows, not because of the budgetary constraints but because of the unstructured stories, characters and overall mess. The fact that the directors involved have given us the likes of Timecrimes and Resolution is just upsetting because this film is a terrible entry into this flawed but fascinating series. The saving grace is that these directors will be back with bigger and better works in the future. If V/H/S hopes to say the same it needs to return to atmosphere, tighter storytelling and messages that make you think, instead of feeble half-arsed satire (which is evident only due to ‘viral’ being in the title and being tirelessly repeated throughout) hidden beneath unbearable characters and unwatchable attempts at edgy art. It all, sadly, does not work, and to think Todd Lincoln’s short Gorgeous Vortex was cut from the cinema release due to not fitting in with the film? And the others did? Dispiritingly disappointing sequel that makes you want to eject more than upload.
V/H/S: VIRAL / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: NACHO VIGALONDO, MARCEL SARMIENTO, AARON MOORHEAD, JUSTIN BENSON, GREGG BISHOP, TODD LINCOLN / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: PATRICK LAWRIE, EMILIA ZORYAN, JUSTIN WELBORN, GUSTAVO SALMERON, / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 19TH