J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

V/H/S: Viral—Maintaining the Gold Standard of Found Footage Horror

If some form of uncanny mass hysteria broke out in Los Angeles, would anyone notice? At least, there would be no shortage of handheld devices to record the phenomenon. The reigning champion of found footage horror franchises gets a spruced up framing device, taking it to the streets for its third installment, V/H/S: Viral (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

“Viral” is definitely the key word for Kev, the amateur videographer dreaming of youtube glory in Marcel Sarmiento’s interstitial Vicious Circles. However, it takes on multiple meanings when outbreaks of mob violence follow the wake of the evil clown ice-cream truck pursued by nearly all of LA's Finest. Somehow, the clown-mobile also managed to abduct his long-suffering girlfriend, making the hot pursuit distinctly personal for Kev. The early segments of Circles really capture a vivid sense of the city’s mean streets, where the everyday is just as scary as the horror movie elements. Unfortunately, the conclusion makes little sense and is even less satisfying.

Overall, the discrete constituent films are much stronger and scarier. While Gregg Bishop’s Dante the Great largely plays like a well-executed Twilight Zone episode, it has some nice flashes of macabre humor. The titular Dante was a poor aspiring illusionist with little prospects until he got his hands on a mysterious cape. Reportedly, it was once owned by Houdini, but he was so freaked out by it, he deliberately shed it somehow. Right, you’re already getting the picture and his new assistant Scarlett soon will too. Frankly, Dante often seems to “cheat” on the found footage format, but since it has some pretty cool scenes of magical mayhem, so be it.

Arguably, the most inventive segment of Viral is Nacho Vigalondo’s Parallel Monsters. Alfonso is an eccentric inventor who has created a portal to an alternate dimension, as has his counterpart on the other side of the hatch. They switch places to briefly explore each other’s worlds, but our Alfonso soon discovers he is in the one parallel universe they never explored in Star Trek. Let’s just say it belongs in a horror anthology like this. The way Vigalondo slowly reveals details on this other dark world is quite clever and massively creepy.

Frankly, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s Bonestorm is not much for character development, but it is tough to beat for sheer adrenaline charged lunacy. Basically, a group of knuckleheaded thrill-seekers head down to Tijuana to film a skateboarding video, but they inadvertently crash some sort of demonic zombie party. Madness ensues—spectacularly. When it comes to energy and attitude, Bonestorm is a gory three-ring circus, while remaining fully found footage-compliant. You just need to pop a few Dramamine and see it for yourself.

Few horror franchises still perform as consistently the third time around as the V/H/S series. While the first film maintained a more uniform atmosphere of dread and the second hits higher peaks with Gareth Huw Evans & Timo Tjahjanto’s Safe Haven and Jason Eisener’s Alien Abduction Slumber Party, Viral has fewer weak links overall. Diabolically fun, V/H/S Viral is enthusiastically recommended for the full spectrum of horror fans when it opens tomorrow (11/21) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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