Follows fame-obsessed teens who unwittingly become stars of the next internet sensation.
The VHS franchise returns with VHS Viral for its third installment. Three short stories and a wrap around theme unite the found footage anthology. VHS Viral is far more solid than the first in the series but less urgent and visually cohesive. It is not as slick and successful as the second set, VHS 2, never attempting to reach the heights of “Safe Haven.” Director Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl) heads up the wrap around story “Vicious Circles” while Gregg Bishop (Dance of the Dead) directs “Dante the Great,” Nacho Vigalondo (Open Windows) explores “Parallel Monsters” and Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (Resolution) runs head first into “Bonestorm.” VHS Viral takes advantage of the anthology format presenting four diverse stories ala Tales from the Crypt loosely linked together by the wrap around story and the found footage film. As with most anthology films, the movie is often as bad as its worst film as much as it can be as good as its best. VHS Viral is least effective of the series thus far but no less interesting.
With VHS Viral, the series continues to develop its weakest entry into the wrap around segment with “Vicious Circles” suffering greatly from both failing to establish its main characters well enough for anything resembling engaging people and having its narrative continually interrupted by the other shorts. In VHS, the incredibly unlikable characters would watch the other segments on the VHS tapes. This continued in VHS 2 with its characters being slightly more enjoyable. For the third entry, they abandon all that for the vaguely implied cell phone nature of its video capture in hope of generating viral footage but never manages to take advantage of its own premise outside, perhaps, one scene where a crowd of onlookers attempt to capture the chase from a bridge. The remainder of the film features a couple where the boyfriend is scrambling after a police chase where he believes his girlfriend is held captive in the pursued Ice Cream truck. The segment from Marcel Sarmiento is disjointed, confusing and dull.
Thankfully the first segment is far more entertaining and fascinating. Gregg Bishop reunites with his Dance of the Dead cast member Justin Welborn for” Dante the Great,” a tale of a wannabe magician who discovers a sinister magical cape that makes him a star. As with any Monkey’s Paw inspired E.C. Comics themed tale, such a thing always comes with a great cost, it is no different with Dante. The cape becomes a fabric version of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors all but screaming “Feed Me, Dante!” The segment is fast paced, action packed and visually arresting but quickly looses interesting in maintaining its found footage theme. It seems to attempt to copy some of the multi-camera antics of Chronicle but misses the mark. Regardless, it serves up a story suitable for the contents of a classic Tales from the Crypt, Tales of the Darkside or Night Gallery episode.
“Parallel Monsters” from director Nacho Vigalondo is the most fantasy and science fiction oriented segment of VHS yet. At least until the supernatural elements force their way into the short. The story follows Alfonso, a homegrown scientist who has built a dimensional doorway into an alternate universe. Once he opens the portal, he discovers another version of himself staring back. It seems the alternate Alfonso has also built the same doorway. They quickly decide to spend fifteen minutes in each other’s realities to explore. And, then, all hell breaks loose. The story goes off in surprising and visually shocking directions and, while it often makes little sense, “Parallel Monsters” is the most structurally satisfying of VHS Viral. The film is visually arresting and keeps its viewer guessing to what is next.
The third segment, “Bonestorm,” from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead is crafted for a specific audience in mind and does not necessarily balance well with the other two shorts or the wrap around tale. It is far more anarchistic and chaotic in its presentation and character but no in the way “10/31/98” was in the first VHS which caught everyone’s attention. Following an unpleasant group of teen skate board punks, the found footage technique is utilized with Go-Pro helmets and a companion to the crew who is filming their exploits as a Youtube web series. Ending up in Tijuana, in a remote section of a paved dried up reservoir, their numbers are quickly reduced as a coven of costumed zombie-like witches attack. The story has very little to say other than to provide the audience with fast paced camera work, in your face monsters and graphic deaths from frame to frame. Given that the characters offer so little to root for, the quick action becomes boring surprisingly fast.
While not a successful as the previous two entries, VHS Viral is a fun film, full of inventive ideas, original effects and gruesome surprises. The franchise shows signs of caring less and less about the found footage aspect of it at times and struggles to continue building the overall themes. But as individual anthology segments go, VHS Viral contains some gems and a disaster or two. “Dante the Great” and “Parallel Monsters” shine while “Bonestorm” promises to work well for the right crowd. As with VHS (2012) and VHS 2 (2013), it is the wrap around story (Vicious Circles) that continues to have the least impact never truly trying to tie the stories together this time around. Even if VHS Viral is not the stand out entry into the series, it still illustrates that there is enough life in the concept to support a few more entries in the franchise. The anthology format encourages exploration and experimentation where, when the risk pays off, the result can be spectacular. Worth the viewing even if it feels more and more like fast food.
3 out of 5