Drive-In Dive In: Viral

Posted: July 29, 2016 in Horror, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

ViralLike a parasite or a particularly unpleasant invasive species, venereal horror can be a nasty and truly gruesome phenomenon – if done properly. The source of the horror can spring from the earth or drop in from outer space. The result can be sex crazed maniacs, hopped-up zombies, or just any non-specific antisocial and lethal behavior, but the motivation of the creature that results from the infection is simple: survive and multiply. Prime examples in this sub-genre are David Cronenberg’s Shivers and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Viral is closer in its DNA to Cronenberg’s film than Carpenter’s, but whereas Shivers was full frontal venereal horror, Viral is the equivalent of just holding hands.

The immediate danger we learn at the onset of the movie is an outbreak in China of an infectious disease that has been dubbed “worm flu,” not because it’s spread by worms but because one (or more) wiggler ends up roaming around under your skin until its controls your brain, leaving you blind with wormy antennae coming out of your ears. (Yeah, it’s not that scary when you see it written down.) One method of exposition used in Viral is public statements made by President Obama during an Ebola outbreak during his administration. It’s a neat, effective trick that gives the film a sense of realism and urgency in the early going. Unfortunately, viewers are given little else to build a sense of communal panic or general paranoia.

Ground zero for the wan effort is a high school in a suburb left behind by Spielberg in one of his 80’s films. Biology teacher Michael Drakeford has moved his wife and two teenage daughters there from Berkley, and all are miserable – particularly the wife who goes on a business trip rather than appear for one minute in the film. Drakeford is played by the excellent Michael Kelly, on break from his role as Doug Stamper in House of Cards. The film could use more of his adult supervision, but he drives off in search of his wife early, apparently finds her, and decides to save his acting career rather than his screen daughters by not returning.

So his offspring, Emma and Stacey, must navigate alone the perils of being the new girls at school, the daughters of a teacher, and, for at least one of them, potential incubator for a wormy, worm-like thingy. But at least they are given love interests. For older and more promiscuous Stacey, it’s the tattooed guy on crutches. For steady, virginal Emma, it’s the guy next door – although it’s a cul-de-sac, so it’s kind of the guy on the diagonal, although he does have a straight on view into her bedroom. Sofia Black-D’Elia, most recently scene as the victim in the memorable first episode of HBO’s The Night Of is Emma, and she’s really very good – as is Analeigh Tipton as sister Stacey. Unfortunately, they are let down by a screenplay that does not provide enough scares or squirms.

The action is largely confined to the Drakeford’s nondescript suburban home. The distinct nature of the threat is given out piecemeal and is still unclear by the end of the film. Are they full-on ass-wild zombies or some type of nesting predators with a hive mind and bad posture? Who knows? Worse, by the end, who cares?

This week is a big one for directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. In addition to Viral appearing on demand, their feature Nerve, starring Emma Roberts, debuted in theaters. For those who have wondered why certain films make it to the cineplex and others go directly to iTunes, the answer in this case seems to be a simple matter of quality.

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