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‘V/H/S: Viral’: Same problems, but also similar thrills

‘V/H/S: Viral’: Same problems, but also similar thrills


V/H/S: Viral
Written by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Nacho Vigalondo, Gregg Bishop, Marcel Sarmiento, David White, T.J. Cimfel, Ed Daugherty
Directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Nacho Vigalondo, Gregg Bishop, Marcel Sarmiento
USA, 2014

When the first film in this series was released 2 years ago, it came as a much-needed breath of fresh air for the found-footage subgenre, a subgenre that had tired itself out by the time even Paranormal Activity 2 came out. What stood out the most about it was that none of the filmmakers involved were trying to fool you into thinking that any of it was real, while studio made found footage films still marketed themselves as “this is real footage”. Rather than try to pull a trick you wouldn’t fall for, they just had fun with the format and sought to break down the limitations of it. V/H/S 2 doubled down on the scope and ambition and was an exhilarating anthology to witness. Does the whole endeavor begin to feel tired at this point? Yeah, but then again most film series tend to feel that way their third time at bat.

As with it’s predecessors, there’s an overarching storyline that places itself between each segment. And as with it’s predecessors, it’s the weakest part of the film despite some impressive moments that make you cringe. This film’s one, titled “Vicious Circles” and directed by Marcel Sarmiento follows a young man trying to find his girlfriend while a virus on everyone’s smartphones makes them violent. One could argue for it all as some satirical critique on the microwave generation consumed with filming and taking pictures of everything on their phones, but honestly it’s all too incoherent to be taken as such. It cuts to various different sideplots and when it does come to a conclusion, not even the filmmaker seems to know he got there, or what to do next. I would have hoped that by this point the producers would have figured out they don’t need an over-arching segment to cut back to in between the others. It’s just excess fat you’re waiting to get past.

One of the only things these segments have to do to succeed is to be inventive, and for the most part the first segment “Dante the Great” by Gregg Bishop does that. It adopts the framework of a documentary to tell the story of a magician who wields a cape that gives him magic powers if he gives it bodies to feed off of. It erupts into an engaging climax where he rolls off dozens of tricks to fight SWAT agents and his assistant. What stands out is how much of a well-built character Justin Welborn is able to craft as Dante. There’s a real history that he’s able to establish credibly and that he carries with him throughout the crosscutting plot. While it’s all very exciting, the piece ultimately spends its whole time explaining itself. It’s a great idea that’s well executed, but still feels stale compared to the other two segments after it.


Coming off the cult sleeper Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead craft a real highlight in their short “Bonestorm” which follows a group of teenage skateboarders who venture to Tijuana to film a skate video and are hunted down by members of a cult. There’s a wonderfully executed type of humor that’s simultaneously deadpan and absurdist that flows through the climax when the boys are fighting for their lives with their skateboards. What’s great is that the leads don’t seem terribly phased by the horror descending on them. There’s just something so comical in the fact that these characters just kind of roll with the fact that they have to kill a bunch of cult members intent on sacrificing them. They seem to even get a kick out of it all, and so do we.

Going back to the need for these segments to be inventive, it should be said that Nacho Vigalondo’s middle name is probably “inventive”. The premise for his short, “Parallel Monsters”, shares a lot in common with Vigalondo’s Timecrimes – a man invents a portal to an alternate universe where he and his double decide to switch places for 15 minutes – and you could praise it for that just as much as you could criticize it. It’s a great achievement to just how much world-building Vigalondo is able to cram in this small piece without losing any tread on the pacing. Vigalondo is the type of filmmaker that can deliver a big bang for a small concept, and he continues to prove that here. There’s a expertly built tension as each doppelganger makes their way around the house that leads to discoveries for the audience that induces screams and laughter simultaneously. You cringe, but you can’t help but laugh at the payoff of it all. (Disclosure: There was another segment by Todd Lincoln that was cut at the last second. It can be trusted it was for the best though. I mean, did you see The Apparition? Bullet dodged.)

It feels inevitable that there will be more of these, and I’m totally game for that. But at the same time, they’re three films in and they still are having the same problems. It doesn’t show a lot of growth in that aspect. Thankfully though the highlights of the films continue to shine: They’re inventive, thrilling, and most of all, a hell of a good time.