Film Torments: V/H/S: Viral (2014)


THIS WEEK on Torments, George has a stab at an anthology that, inexplicably, made it to three instalments.

Let it never be said that I don’t suffer for my art. I have now sat through this abortion of a film twice – once when I watched it for the first time, a year ago, and once now, just to make sure I got every tedious, poorly-written detail of it accurate. In the interests of fairness, I have to say that V/H/S: Viral is not the worst film I’ve ever seen. Postal was stupider; Hobo With A Shotgun was more lazily made, and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants held infinitely more contempt for the audience.

V/H/S: Viral is, however, the most boring film I’ve seen. That’s not something I expected to have to say about any entry in the V/H/S franchise. While the first two were unoriginal and vastly overhyped, they were competently-made anthology films that, while overly reliant on predictable jump scares, knew what they were out to do and did it more competently than a film like Insidious or The Conjuring, on a fraction of the budget. The third instalment, though, is different. For some reason the filmmakers have decided to abandon the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic that they’ve relied on thus far in favour of films that try to build atmosphere. It doesn’t work out well.

For those that don’t know, the original V/H/S was a 2012 found-footage anthology horror film created by Brad Miska and his horror website Bloody Disgusting. It consisted of six short films by various directors (including Ti West, now a major figure in the horror world), of varying quality, all of them heavily reliant on the jump-scare tactics that have become so popular in the wake of the Paranormal Activity films. For some reason, the film was successful enough to spawn a sequel that was largely similar, both in approach and quality.


I’m still unsure as to why V/H/S was so successful. I suspect it was to do with the filmmakers’ decision to combine two gimmicks – found footage and anthology – and the fact that they came out at a time when any film that makes loud noises at the audience is considered a horror masterpiece. I’m genuinely baffled by the level of hype that these films received. Even people who I know have good taste in film, and who enjoy horror films, have recommended V/H/S to me. Mark Kermode has spoken favourably of V/H/S 2, for Christ’s sake, and he’s arguably the best film critic in the country.

This film’s predecessors, then, set the bar pretty low. V/H/S: Viral runs into that bar face-first, chased by a poorly-made-up zombie. To give you an idea of what exactly is wrong with the film, I’ll explain one of the segments. A group of uniquely obnoxious skaters decide to go to Mexico, for some reason. They end up skating around a location that I’m pretty sure was used in a different segment earlier in the film, until they’re attacked by devil-worshippers. Then the devil-worshippers turn into zombies.

The skaters fight the zombies, until the zombies eat them. I guarantee that reading that description is more interesting that the actual film. The characters are not only annoying, they’re one-dimensional – the former is forgivable, the latter much less so. The zombies are given no explanation; they just turn up and attack the kids because, well, the script told them to.


Worst of all, though, is the actual fight with the zombies. The entire thing looks like it was shot and choreographed by a child: Zombie walks at kid; kid hits zombie with skateboard; zombie falls over. Rinse and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. I’ve never been attacked by zombies, but I’m pretty sure being slowly eaten alive by a shambling corpse would be more entertaining than watching this.

But wait, I’ve forgotten about the best part of the entire film; they give up on the found-footage gimmick twenty minutes in. Literally in the first short film, the director (Gregg Bishop) slips from found-footage to a conventional multi-camera approach near the end. I cannot stress this enough – one of the films in a found-footage anthology, after sticking to found footage for almost its entire runtime, gives up completely.

The rest of the anthology is strictly found-footage, but for some reason Bishop thought “sod it, they won’t notice if I film this scene normally”. I’m trying to find a simile to explain how stupid that is, but I honestly can’t think of anything as stupid as what Gregg Bishop actually did. Damn it, Gregg.

Credit where credit’s due, though: Parallel Monsters, the second short film, is good. Directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo, it’s original, well-made and genuinely creepy, something that no other short film in the entire trilogy has managed. Watch that, skip the rest, and let me know when found footage stops being a thing.

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