I have been an apologist for the V/H/S series -- found footage horror anthologies directed by several contemporary indie horror filmmakers like Ti West, Adam Wingard and Glenn McQuaid (as well as some directors not known for horror like The Raid's Gareth Evans and Joe Swanberg) -- through two movies now, finding things to like in both prior installments despite the fact that neither was entirely successful. The first movie was totally inconsistent and didn't work more than it did, but had a low-fi scuzziness and some things to say about misogyny that made it cumulatively effective. V/H/S/2, released just one year later, had much better individual segments that ultimately added up to nothing. It was better and, at the same time, not as good.
Apparently, there were originally four segments in the anthology; a fourth, from The Apparition director Todd Lincoln, was cut at the last minute for "unknown reasons." At least its omission results in the first V/H/S movie that clocks in at under 90 minutes. While you might think that means it doesn't feel overly long, you would be wrong.
Then there is the wraparound story, which somehow manages to be even weaker than the previous two films' "people watch a succession of VHS tapes" approach. In this one, a guy pursues his girlfriend through Los Angeles in the middle of a citywide police chase, while a bunch of people look on and film shit on their phones and get nosebleeds. The nosebleed power of the first two movie's videotapes has now GONE VIRAL, which is making everyone crazy...I think. The point is that it's viral, because viral is a thing. Have I mentioned this movie is not good?
I was hoping things would pick up from there with Nacho Vigalondo's contribution, "Parallel Monsters." It starts strong, with the same kind of sci-fi bent that made the director's Timecrimes so interesting. It justifies the found footage premise, making its protagonist an inventor who's documenting everything his finds in the mirror dimension, and builds an effective sense of dread as we realize that things aren't quite right on the other side. It falls apart from there, though, and when he finally reveals his endgame, it's too silly to be scary or take seriously -- it's a punchline that ought to appear in a Troma movie. As a matter of fact, it has. Maybe it's meant to be funny. It isn't, but at least it would explain why Vigalondo pisses away the tension he had established. The final image suggests we're supposed to take it seriously, but even that is just an echo of his "A is for Apocalpyse" from the first ABCs of Death.
Almost. Before the film ends, we have to get another 15 minutes of the worthless wraparound story (directed by Deadgirl's Marcel Sarmiento), which opens up the scope compared to the previous two movies but somehow manages to be worse. It loses the sense of dread present in both V/H/S and V/H/S/2 and replaces it with car chases and an ice cream truck and some gore effects, all intercut with old footage of a couple in love (you know, like in Cloverfield). It continues the "mythology" of the series without adding anything to it, except to say that now the magic videos are affecting a lot more people. Why does this series even need a mythology?
V/H/S: Viral is currently available via iTunes and VOD. It opens in limited release on November 21.