15 – 85mins – 2016
Duped into adding this to my watch list by a poster which strongly resembles the promo art for Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain TV series, my punctured hopes were somewhat re-inflated when the opening credits revealed that this lo-fi parasitic possession horror was directed by Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 & 4 and Nerve helming duo Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost.
Sadly, Viral – which was shelved and sold-off by under-threat producers Miramax in a similar vein to forthcoming shark-thriller 47 Metres Down, before being quietly released to VOD platforms by Dimension Films – is a muted, journeyman sci-fi/horror epidemic piece which features none of the verve, shocks or creativity which illuminated Schulman and Joost’s other higher-profile projects.
Following a breakout of the highly-infectious “worm flu,” Shadow Canyon is put under strict governmental quarantine and curfew. With their father (Michael Kelly) out of town to bring their mother home, ‘high school’ sisters (Analeigh Tipton and Sofia Black D’Elia, both of whom clearly in their mid-twenties) are tempted into having boys over and heading out to house parties, unaware of the danger this is putting them under…
For a film of just 85mins, it is a surprising length of time before we even witness the full extent of the infection’s possessive power, and a full 52 minutes before the parasitic worms even poke their heads out of a victim’s ear! I’m not opposed to slow burn horrors, provided when the shit hits the fan it is worth the accrual. Viral is not. A sequence with a motor torch is wholly contrived to reveal a room full of sleeping zombies (a la the “recharging” drones in Cell), and there are hints at a hive mind mentality which are never capitalised upon.
Even when the CDC roll in to bomb Shadow Canyon in the final five minutes, the whole endeavour feels muted and anti-climactic, with the story closing on an open-ended note which has seeds of positivity for the survivors, but too many intriguing and juicy plot points are, ironically, quashed before spreading and lead nowhere. Unsatisfying.
CR@B’s Claw Score: