Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Sofia Black-D'Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Travis Trope, Machine Gun Kelly, Michael Kelly
Emma and Stacey Drakeford have moved to a new secluded town and are settling into their new high school, when a deadly viral outbreak starts to spread throughout the country. Soon their whole neighborhood is under quarantine as the virus, which makes people violently psychotic and highly infectious, spreads to people they know. Cut off from their parents, Emma, Stacey and Evan (Emma's secret crush) must survive both the infected and the National Guard tasked with keeping the infected area contained.
The biggest relief for me, when sitting down to watch Viral, was that the film is neither a found-footage shakycam effort nor an attempt at a fake-umentary. This is a relief because film-makers Joost and Schulman are the pair responsible for the documentary Catfish.
The film and its script spends a lot of time making sure we're on board with these characters because the film's success depends solely on whether we care if these characters survive their predicament. Therefore we get a nice courtship between Emma and Evan, both cute characters as they slowly develop feelings for each other. Stacey is slightly different. She's older and has a different perspective on their parents' current situation. Her relationship with CJ is in part a reaction/rebellion to that.
The threat of the virus infection sneaks up quite covertly. A lot of films make the mistake of using tv news reports to dump huge amounts of exposition and keep us informed of the bigger picture. This is done much more organically here, with the protagonists ignoring the news reports which you can semi-hear in the background, while focussing more on clips from Youtube showing someone spewing blood over another. So when, suddenly, the army arrives and quarantines the neighbourhood, it’s a shock to both the viewer and the protagonists.
The reality of the situation, and how much danger they are in, finally hits home during an illicit house party in a partly-constructed building. Someone arrives, infected, and goes on a rampage. Emma and Stacey find themselves trapped inside, and the scene develops into a very tense cat-and-mouse scenario as they try to avoid being detected.
The viral infection is a great piece of body horror. As a helpful Youtube clip earlier shows, its similar to being infected by a Bot Fly (go look it up but be warned its pretty horrible!), and involves a long worm-like creature to grow inside your body, taking over your mind and senses ( the infected use their hearing rather than eyesight).
The film deals with the idea of destructing and rebuilding, especially families and relationships, and like Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978) and Abel Ferrarer's Bodysnatchers (1993), suggests that the infected are being induced into another kind of family altogether.
This is a very entertaining body-horror which will make people squirm in discomfort, especially when an attempt to remove the parasite from someone's body is made. The acting is fine, allowing the audience to easily empathise with our main protagonists, and the special fx work is very well handled.
7 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)