“If V/H/S: Viral turns out not to be the conclusion of the franchise as a whole, the future will need to see more quality control for the franchise to remain admirable.”

by Steve Pulaski

V/H/S: Viral marks the third film in the horror anthology franchise in three years, a franchise which has found itself circulating in a limited theatrical release and video-on-demand outlets, giving independent directors a method of experimentation that allows for readily-available distribution and a showcase for a variety of talents. The last two V/H/S installments were nothing incredible, and shared the commonality of having a shaky (speaking in terms of narrative and videography) wraparound story but found ways to compile four or five well-executed short horror stories into something worth watching.

The genre’s third entry is where it starts to show that maybe an annual tradition for this franchise may not be the best thing for it. V/H/S: Viral is a messy, scattershot hodge-podge of a horror anthology, with the most disorganized editing the franchise has yet to see. It wasn’t atypical for at least one of the shorts in the prior installments to be burdened by shaky videography, but when the wraparound story (the metaphorical glue holding this anthology together) and another one of the stories are brought down so heavily by their lackluster videography, and the two additional shorts are somewhat effective yet light, is when you have a third installment that feels nothing but a rushed entry into a franchise that’s already something of a rollercoaster.

V/H/S: Viral
Directed by
Justin Benson, Gregg Bishop, Todd Lincoln, Aaron Moorhead, Marcel Sarmiento, Nacho Vigalondo
Emmy Argo, Amanda Baker, Rim Basma
Release Date
23 October 2014
Steve’s Grade: C-

To begin with, the wraparound story, Marcel Sarmiento’s Vicious Circles, by far the most incoherent wraparound story of the three films, focuses on a man so obsessed with catching a big event on camera so the video can go viral he becomes neglectful of his girlfriend’s feelings. When he tries to catch a high-speed police-chase in the act, the video ends up backfiring when he learns the true, captive abilities of the vehicle being pursued. Or something like that. Amidst awful videography and chaotic editing lies a solid commentary about the obsession of “the next big thing” and the need to record everything that happens. It’s unfortunate to see such a bold opportunity brought down so heavily by its structural incoherence.

Gregg Bishop’s Dante the Great is the first official short we see in its entirety, concerning a cocky magician, whose career experiences a meteoric rise after he finds a cloak that once belonged to Harry Houdini. The cloak possesses the ability to bring illusions to life, allowing Dante the Great to propel people into mid-air and transport them to different places before their eyes. The short manages to be the most fun V/H/S: Viral has to offer, even if it’s all a little too predictable, and features some of the strongest (and most visible) effects work of the film.
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Nacho Vigalondo’s Parallel Monsters is next, a short entirely in Spanish, concerning interdimensional mayhem, as an inventor creates access to an alternate universe through which he finds another version of himself. Everything in his doppelganger’s world looks the same, so the two agree to swap worlds for fifteen minutes, until the inventor makes the mistake of realizing that sex is a much different activity in the other world. Out of all the things you could do to manipulate in another, almost identical dimension, the fact that sex was chosen seems too juvenile and too bent on shock. Still, Parallel Monsters has a low-quality approach with its videography, despite depicting futuristic technology, which makes for an interesting contrast and a marginally-satisfying short.

We conclude with Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead’s Bonestorm, concerning a group of Los Angeles skateboarders, making good use of multiple cameras and camera-angles to capture their stunts. Shot mostly through the use of first-person perspectives on skateboards, or through the use of strategically-placed helmet-cameras, the gang heads down to Mexico for a bit more unrestricted skating to find a Mexican cult made up entirely of violent skeletons, who have made their home over a land infused with a pentagram logo on the ground. This short, again, is burdened by shaky, monotonously unstable videography, and suffers from redundancy when the skateboarders finally figure out the violent ways of this newfound cult.

Another short film by the name of Gorgeous Vortex, directed by Todd Lincoln, was planned to be included with V/H/S: Viral, but was cut for unknown reasons and was neither screened at festivals nor released on video-on-demand outlets. Because of this, V/H/S: Viral runs at a curiously short eighty-one-minutes, and results in a film being digested almost as quickly as it ends. While neither short is entirely abysmal, none of them particularly stand out, with the highlight, Dante the Great, only an average affair instead of one deserving extensive praise.

With this, the V/H/S franchise has already established its value, which I stated above, but if V/H/S: Viral turns out not to be the conclusion of the franchise as a whole, the future will need to see more quality control for the franchise to remain admirable.

Vicious Circles: D+
Dante the Great: B-
Parallel Monsters: C+
Bonestorm: C