I got a chance to see V/H/S: Viral, my most anticipated film of this MASSACRE MARATHON tonight at the Philly Film Festival a few days before its actual release. I felt special! I had high hopes for the third installment in the found-footage horror anthology series. There was a decent turnout for such a late showtime. It was time to see if the drive into the city was worth it…
For those not familiar with the V/H/S franchise, the films are made up of a bunch of shorts featuring different characters (and different directors) held together by an overarching central story (or what I like to call the “hub”). This “hub” pops in and out between the smaller segments. In this case, the “hub” story is about a guy who is always recording everything, looking for his big break to put on YouTube and become famous. His day comes when an eerie, out of control ice cream truck comes barreling down the road behind his house, being chased by a half-dozen cop cars. He runs outside to film the action when his girlfriend somehow gets nabbed by the truck. Desperate to find her, he grabs his bike and chases after, becoming less worried about awesome footage and more worried about finding his girl.
Abruptly, the first segment starts. Right off the bat, I could tell this new sequel wasn’t going to have the same presentation as its predecessors. Usually, the characters in the “hub” story find a stash of strangely marked VHS tapes (hence the title) and begin watching them. The whole idea is to make the audience feel like they are there, watching the tapes over the “hub” character’s shoulder. I wasn’t too thrilled to see that format go.
Anyhow, the leading short begins with an unsolved crime-documentary style. A trailer park magician finds a magical cape that propels him to Vegas stardom. When his assistants go missing left and right the police get involved, but do not know what they are dealing with. There are some fun cape-involved tricks and a respectable face-off fight scene, but this series is supposed to be about the terror and I wasn’t scared once. I felt like I was watching an action film and maybe this segment would have fit better in that genre.
Segment number two was my favorite of the bunch. It involves a man who has created a machine that acts as a portal to a parallel dimension. He finds out it works and meets a mirror double of himself on the other side. They seem to be living identical lives, have the same wife, etc. They agree to jump through portal and switch lives for 15 minutes to see what each other’s sides are like. As you can imagine, one side turns out to be very different from the other. Some crazy imagery, set pieces, and props make this the stand out section of the film.
The third and final short is about a rag-tag group of skateboarders that are filming a compilation video. They have GoPro cameras attached to their helmets and take a designated cameraman along for the ride when they decide to take a short trip to Tijuana for a new location to shred. They soon find they are in danger when a bunch of occultists appear on the horizon and attempt to sacrifice the them. This was the part of V/H/S: Viral I was most looking forward to, and I hate to say I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. This short featured the most action, but the bulk of it was very unrealistic and unbelievable. It also had too ambiguous of an ending for my liking. Once again, the fright was at low capacity while action and even laughs were in a higher abundance. This was another story that could have been put to better use in an action-horror hybrid feature-length.
I could say that about all of the stories (including the ice cream truck part), that if these shorts had more screen time to develop, they would blossom into fully realized mini-masterpieces. Actually, that might be taking it too far. They would at least be better than they are now! They even had longer runtimes than the previous films because the older V/H/S‘ had four shorts a piece. There was a quick scene towards the end of Viral that seemed to act as a fourth story, but I wouldn’t count it as it only lasted a few minutes and was lumped in with the ice cream truck chase. Even Josh Hartnett’s character in Sin City was more amusing.
I did enjoy the majority of the boyfriend’s frantic pursuit of the mysterious frozen treat van. There was a feeling of absolute chaos and the handheld POV style did a great job of placing you in the heat of it all. However, even this tale ended with an uninteresting conclusion. In general, I wanted more to happen in V/H/S: Viral. More horror, more footage, more stories. Make it happen next time (assuming there is even going to be a next time) or I fear the franchise will die, and I really want this original and atmospheric series of horror to keep steaming onward.
3 sinister ice cream slingers out of 5