A mysterious virus has broken out, infecting virtually the entire human race. To protect them from a world gone mad, two teenage sisters – Emma (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) Drakeford are confined to their home under quarantine, whilst their father sets out to find their mother who is returning from a business trip. As time progresses however Emma begins to realise that Stacey may well be infected with the deadly disease, and begins a desperate attempt to save her sister from a fate worse than death.
It’s difficult to categorise Viral, the new horror / drama by directing duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Though its cast consists mainly of kids in threat from some form of alien life-force, to call it a teenager in peril film would be misleading as it would give the impression that it is a hybrid slasher film, which it certainly isn’t. Here instead we have large doses of old school gore, mixed with contemporary high-school chills, resulting in a Cronenbergian body horror for the teenage generation.
With most major television networks both in the US and elsewhere, now offering their own high end take on everything from zombies and aliens to mass murderers and paranormal creepiness, horror films have been left with few places of originality to go. In the past, apart from the odd classically inspired ghost story told on the BBC, you still had to go to the cinema for real full blooded scares. Now however, you can get this type of stuff at the flick of your TV remote most nights of the week, meaning that few people are interested in movies if they do little more than raise a mild chill.
Viral works however because those behind it have mixed the familiar with some genuinely original and disturbing effects. The film’s setting – a nondescript suburban cul-de-sac, the likes of which have taken over large swathes of western America since Steven Spielberg made them the norm in Poltergeist (1982) – lends the film a sense of the familiar, simply heightening its air of realism and discomfort. Mix this with a smattering of gory shocks – an early schoolgirl victim whose virus induced convulsions result in a particularly graphic bout of projectile vomiting is particularly disconcerting – and what you get, though at times playing out like an episode of some TV horror miniseries, is definitely above your average teenage frightfest.
The filmmakers clearly decided to set the action within an environment which will be instantly recognisable to kids the world over – high school problems, embarrassing, over-protective parents (on the verge of a possible divorce), sneaking off to illicit parties when you’ve been told specifically by your father to stay indoors for your own safety. Interestingly though it is the said kids that are the real heroes of the film, clearly capable of making life changing decisions without the intrusion of adults, who by the end are reduced to mere off camera voices at the end of a telephone.
If you accept the film for what it clearly is intended to be, i.e. an effective slice of teenage schlock, you won’t be disappointed by this nasty twist on viral horror.
Cleaver Patterson (@Cleaver68 / @ScreenAndGone)