VHS: Viral: On The Origin Of The Genre
Dir. Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento, & Nacho Vigalondo (2014)
The genre of horror comes from a long tradition of the anthology series. From stories that were passed down through the generations around campfires to the early advent of television with series like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, horror itself descends directly from oral storytelling. With quick bursts of storyline, entire franchises have made the "short story anthology" of horror into their bread and butter. Hell, most of us grew up on Tales From The Crypt, or, if we're older, the EC/Weird comic book lines. I, personally, am a huge Stephen King fan, and while his longer books are absolutely amazing, some of my favorite of his books are the ones with multiple stories contained in a larger work. Of course, there are exceptions: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and various other novel-length works throughout history have helped to support the genre among those with longer attention spans, and there are more feature-length films than you can shake a stick at. The short horror story, however, has been around since the dawn of time, when cavemen used to tell their cavechildren that they shouldn't leave the fireside, lest they be trampled by terrifying beasts of prey.
Naturally, as with any other subgenre , the anthology film has had its ups and downs. For every Tales From The Darkside, there is... well, there's a VHS:Viral. Which leads us into a very convenient segue into the review portion of tonight's entertainment.
I'm actually a fan of the first two VHS movies. Naturally, they have their highs and lows as the subgenre does, but I think they were original, inventive, and above all highly entertaining. There were some legitimate masterpieces in the first two of the series, and their over-arcing storylines tied everything together nicely into a well-wrapped package of anthological goodness. VHS:Viral takes the creativity of the first two, shits all over it, and then tries to present itself as a feces-laden continuation of the originals.
The poster is scarier than the movie by far.
As with all movies of its ilk, Viral doesn't suck all the way through. There are some hints of entertainment, such as the short where the two men swap parallel universes and try to coexist with its inhabitants, and the vignette involving a magician with a soul-sucking cloak that grants him his wish to become the world's greatest magician. They were at least somewhat entertaining. The other stories, like the one where a group of teenage skateboarders dudebro their way through a "zombie" outbreak, not only fall short, they fall terribly short, in an incredibly unentertaining way.
It's like Doom, if Doom was legitimately the worst thing ever.
I was most disappointed, however, with the greater storyline that was tasked in bringing the individual stories together. It was incoherant and nonsensical, and was absolutely horrendous storytelling. The main character had no relation to the other stories whatsoever, except that he was supposed to help "make them go viral," which means... well, I have no fucking clue. None of it is ever explained. There's an ending, but there's absolutely no coherence or explanation. We're not lead to believe that the "main character" is even watching these short films that we're watching. His girlfriend is, I guess, kidnapped, which we know because she randomly disappears in the first several moments of the films, and our main character spends the rest of the movie riding his bike after a runaway ice cream truck that may have something to do with his "kidnapped" girlfriend, because the ice cream truck passed the street she was on several minutes before she disappeared right in front of him. The taglines and synopsis of the film talk about how she is the victim of a cybernetic terror, which means fuck all in this movie, because all we are privy to is a short Facetime-esque video of his girlfriend screaming amidst static. Which, again, doesn't lead us to believe she's been kidnapped by computer gremlins, the main character doesn't expound upon at all, and the end of the movie wraps up in no way whatsoever.
I have no idea what I'm doing here, nor does anyone involved in the making of this movie or the viewers at home.
The first two VHS movies were brilliant in concept, because they managed to take our main characters on a journey of discovery, and took us along for the ride. We're part of the viewing of the mysterious found footage world of the abandoned VHS tapes in the original movie, and we're witnesses of the police investigation into a student's disappearance in VHS2. In Viral, we... I guess are supposed to figure out what's going on, even though the main character himself doesn't know? I mean, he doesn't even pretend to know, he just kinda has a breakdown and then presses a button to make all this nonsense go "viral." It just... it's frustrating. It makes no goddamn sense. It would be like if your'e a little kid, and you assume your parents are going to get you a puppy because you find a leash in their bedroom (which to anyone else watching would not lead them to believe there was a pet in the near future), and then they tell him he is getting a dog, and go and buy him a tree, but not one of those fun little bonzai trees, like an actual tree that he has to carry around on a leash and feed and play with. See how that didn't make any sense? Do you understand how everything I just said in the previous sentence doesn't lead to any kind of coherent thought process? The makers of VHS:Viral apparently don't. To them, that was a Newberry-winning children's story. There's a reason why the ending of The Godfather wasn't Vito getting a bowl of ice cream and painting a self-portrait with crocodile dung. It wouldn't have made any goddamn sense. This movie doesn't either.
Bottom Line: Save the trouble, just watch the first two installments again. Not worth watching, even for free. If you're tied to a couch, and the only option for entertainment is this movie, take a nap instead. 3 out of 10 stars (only because of the magician and parallel dimension shorts, because they weren't absolutely godawful.)