Saturday, April 13, 2024


Movie Name:
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Sofia Black-D'Elia, Lio Tipton, Travis Tope, Michael Kelly, Colson Baker, John Cothran, Judyann Elder, Brianne Howey
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are a directing duo who made a name for themselves with their feature directorial debut, "Catfish", which led them on to other directorial engagements, including two films of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise. "Viral" follows the story of Emma Drakeford, a high school student who recently moved to a suburban area in California, with her older sister and parents. Her older sister Stacey is more outgoing and already has a boyfriend, while Emma has an undeclared interest on their neighbor Evan, who also goes to the same high school. Their father Michael is a teacher at their school, and their mom is currently traveling for work, though that particular relationship is somewhat strained. While at school Emma notices her best friend Gracie is acting a bit oddly, until she has a dramatic seizure just outside of school. Gracie ends up vomiting blood on another student who was trying to help her. Reports start emerging on the news that there is a "worm flu" spreading throughout the area. Things start escalating rather quickly, but Stacey pressures Emma to go to a party, where an infected student starts attacking and infecting attendees, including Stacey who becomes infected. As the military becomes involved, everyone is advised to stay indoors. Evan shows up at Emma's door looking for a place to stay as his stepfather is also infected. Emma is desperate to try to save Stacey, and eventually one infecting parasite is removed from her body. However the whole area is ordered for evacuation as the military want to dramatically sanitize it. 
"Viral" is reminiscent of a series of better films that seem to influence much of its narrative thread. The most obvious reference is of course David Cronenberg's "Shivers", but there are elements of Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later", James Gunn's "Slither", George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" and to a lesser extent, Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion". The film illustrates how the viral infection aggressively spreads throughout the community, always from the perspective from the teenage sisters who are left to their own devices, as their father goes off to get their mother from the airport and then becomes blocked from coming back into the area in which they live. Sadly the filmmakers don't spend much time illustrating who these characters actually are, and that includes both the leads and supporting ones. Aside from the fact that one of the sisters wants to party, for the remainder of the narrative they are either trying to understand how the virus propagates, or avoiding being contaminated by it. The virus is a hybrid type of situation, where the infected behave as zombies, but are also under the domain of the viral creature (a brood type of situation, similar to James Gunn's "Slither"). The film lacks a closer attention to these characters, but also fails at building a scenario that is as ominous as the facts that are actually occurring (these adolescents are witnessing the disintegration of everything they've known in their lives, not to mention of everyone they come in contact with, and yet none of this registers properly with them). There is an aspect of survival mode to this narrative (as it does with any zombie film), but that also comes across as undercooked. The filmmakers had all these paths and venues to venture out, but they opted for a bland illustration across all the possible scenarios the script presents. In the end the film comes across as a mediocre cousin of Robert Kirkman/Frank Darabont's "The Walking Dead". It fails to elicit the sheer terror that David Cronenberg was able to muster with "Shivers", and displays none of the humor James Gunn was able to bring to "Slither". The cast is unremarkable, save for the always solid Michael Kelly, whose presence is all too brief. The production team is competent, but unremarkable. It's a forgettable and rather generic exercise.