What happened to the burgeoning "V/H/S" franchise in the span of a year? Gathering together a talented assortment of writer-directors, 2012's "V/H/S
" and 2013's "V/H/S/2
" were fun, creepy, oftentimes bananas horror anthologies marrying the modern (each were shot as POV-style found footage) with the quaintly vintage (the conceit was that each twisted tale was found on a videocassette tape). As is the case with any feature-length compilation, some shorts were more successful than others, but all of them laid claim to their own special, diversified spark. Third installment "V/H/S: Viral" features the same general format, but is such a jarring drop in quality that it plays more like a low-rent imitation from Asylum Entertainment. Were it not for an ingenious segment popping up right in the middleNacho Vigalondo's nightmarishly gutsy "Parallel Monsters"this gravely inferior sequel would be all but entirely worthless.
In a wraparound segment that loses its way in a jiff, "Vicious Circles" from filmmaker Marcel Sarmiento (2013's "The ABCs of Death 2
") finds Kev (Patrick Lawrie) and Iris' (Emilia Zoryan) new, exciting relationship taking a perplexing wrong turn with the appearance of a city-wide police chase involving a runaway ice cream truck. There is also some business involving electronic mind control and bloody noses, but it is so chaotically shot and edited that it becomes altogether incoherent by the end.
Of the three central stories proper, things kick off with "Dante the Great" from director Gregg Bishop (2008's "Dance of the Dead"). There is clear potential, starting with its neat premise of a magician (Justin Welborn) who gets drunk with power after coming into possession of a homicidal cloak rumored to have been previously owned by Harry Houdini. Where this story ultimately goes, though, is pedestrian and then maddening, failing miserably at the series' found-footage model by continually being shot from angles where there couldn't logically be cameras. Either commit to a particular style or drop it completely, but do not insult your audience the way Bishop does here.
Finally, an imaginative, outlandish, genuinely disturbing saving grace arrives in the form of "Parallel Monsters," from Nacho Vigalondo (2008's "Timecrimes
"). When scientist Alfonso (Gustavo Salmeron) discovers a portal to a mirror-like reality in reverse, he and his double decide to journey to each other's universe for a quick fifteen minutes of exploration. What they find should be left to each viewer to discover, but let it be said that Vigalondo has envisioned a plot so sick and chilling and ingenious it's enough to make a person envious that he or she didn't come up with it first. "Parallel Monsters" is good enough to be expanded to a longer form, putting into perspective how disappointingly slapdash, even embarrassing, the rest of the picture is.
"V/H/S: Viral" concludes on a crummy note with the lastand weakestentry, "Bonestorm," helmed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (2013's "Resolution"). Shot with a frustratingly unfocused freneticism, the story tells of a group of L.A. skateboarders who take a trip across the border into Tijuana and stumble upon a demonic coven at the concrete culvert where they plan to practice their stunts. "Bonestorm" is an incomprehensible bore, tantamount to a bunch of skeletal beings pouncing out at the insipid, obnoxious empty vessels posing as protagonists. It, like the bulk of "V/H/S: Viral," feels haphazardly and amateurishly thrown together, a sorry-excuse entry in a series that deserves better. In my review of "V/H/S
," I stated that the film was "a grab-bag of clever, diverse frights" and "an ideal movie to sit and watch in a dark room on a Friday night." With the exception of memorably unsettling middle segment "Parallel Monsters," "V/H/S: Viral" isn't worth watching on Friday or any other night of the week.