The V/H/S movies are certainly not the best in either the world of found footage or the world of horror anthologies, but they have been just entertaining enough to keep me coming back to the franchise each year. For every disappointing story there was usually another that was quite effective and they always had pretty creative ways to invoke the found footage concept. The latest entry however is the first real sign that this franchise is waning.
V/H/S Viral contains three main stories and a wrap around. It’s the fewest amount of stories in one of these movies so far and the whole thing only runs about 80 minutes. Apparently an additional story was to be featured but was cut for reasons unknown. The extra content certainly would have been welcome in what often feels like a slight movie, though considering the quality of the entries we do have, a longer run time may have simply made things worse.
The wraparound story, Vicious Circles I believe it is called, starts out with a dude filming his girlfriend constantly and then eventually becomes about this car chase involving an ice cream truck that everyone in the area is trying to get footage of on their phones and stuff so they can become YouTube famous. However anybody trying to film the chase often suffers from a violent death, always when within vicinity of the actual truck. There is some potential in the early set-up but the quick cuts and disorienting presentation ruin the viewing experience. It’s also capped off with an ending that as far as I can tell is pure nonsense.
The first main story is Dante the Great and it’s about a struggling magician who finds a cloak that apparently once belonged to Houdini but it scared the shit out of him so he ended up getting rid of the thing. The cloak grants the user real magical powers so Dante ends up becoming a huge sensation. He also becomes a huge dick and starts murdering people and the crux of the story follows one of his female assistants who tries to expose him and what he is up to. It’s all presented as a true crime story and there are definitely some things to like about it. There’s some impressive effects worse and some effective comic moments, though it’s not even remotely scary or suspenseful.
My biggest issue though is with the presentation as this isn’t found footage in the slightest. It does a huge cheat by presenting things in the found footage style but filming it as a regular movie. There are shots nobody would have been around to get, angles that would not be possible, and the list goes on. Normally it wouldn’t bother me as much but it seemed to go against what these movies are actually supposed to be.
The second short, Parallel Monsters, is easily the highlight of the movie but I still have mixed thoughts about it. It’s about a guy who invents a machine that will open the doorway to a parallel dimension. There he finds the other version of himself and they agree to switch universes for 15 minutes. At first things look the same but they quickly start to discover some key differences between their universes. This segment does a great job of building up initial suspense as they slowly start to reveal the details of the other universe. However I don’t know if the payoff is creepy or hilarious. Kinda both I guess? It’s certainly original and for that I do feel this is a strong entry in the overall VHS series.
However, the third and final segment, Bonestorm, is probably one of the weakest entries in the overall VHS series. It’s about a group of teenage, skateboarder assholes who go down to Mexico to shoot their skate video. They stumble upon a cult, the cult members (lots of actual skeletons it would seem) attack them, the asshole kids fight back, the short ends. They hint at a huge monster being set free to run loose but there is no payoff there. It’s literally just these fucking unlikable pricks shooting and hitting skeletons without giving the sense that they are a little freaked out by what is happening. I don’t know if we are supposed to think these dudes are awesome but I could barely get through this one. The shaky, disorienting camera work does not help either.
So there you go. One ok entry, one pretty strong one, and one terrible one, all bookended by a pretty weak wraparound story. It’s too bad as I was quite looking forward to this movie but it’s definitely a disappointment. I’ll still check out a fourth V/H/S should it come to pass but after this outing I would be a tad surprised if it kept on going.