SHOCK reviews teen worm zombie chiller VIRAL.
Outbreak movies are a dime a dozen. Zombie movies are even more of an eyesore. But rare is the movie about a sentient worm virus that attacks teens and turns them into blood-barfing, hive-minded ghouls. And that’s exactly what VIRAL is, a new horror film from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3&4) that hits DVD and Digital HD on July 29th. And while the plague-riddled, survivalist song VIRAL sings is ostensibly a familiar one, it has more than a few eerie and intelligent deviations from the undead movie template to make it worth watching.
Actress Sofia Black-D’Elia (PROJECT ALMANAC) plays Emma, a smart teen living with her sister Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) and dad (Michael Kelly, from the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake) in a sleepy suburban town and the film takes its time getting to know them, exploring their relationships and making us emotionally attached to them. This is a good thing. Because when Joost and Schulman introduce the horror, we’re completely invested in what happens to the survivors.
Said horror is a parasitic outbreak that is sweeping the nation, an inexplicable disease that is causing its victims to convulse, foam at the mouth and seek un-infected victims to vomit torrents of livid gore in their mouths. That’s exactly what we see, as diseased teens run around their high school and secret parties spewing poison in each others faces and enlisting new members. The zombies here are essentially meat puppets for some sort of slithering alien wriggler species.
As the world falls to Hell and the town is put under a military quarantine, the two sisters lock themselves in their home and try to wait out the disaster. Except, unbeknownst to Emma, Stacey is infected, the worm burrowing into her neck and brain. Will Emma be able to save her sibling before the ghoul horde comes to call?
VIRAL offers some decent, yet not gratuitous, splatter, believable, likeable characters and some crackerjack pacing. The dialogue isn’t your typical teen horror tripe either; the verbiage is thoughtful and not expository. And at its core, the movie is really about the relationship between the two sisters, their bond and how much they love each other and stick together. And on that note, Black-D’Elia and Tipton are modest marvels, two of the strongest young actors in a film of this type this writer has seen in years.
Ultimately, VIRAL is just product and won’t change your life. But it has no aims to do so. It’s a thoughtful, innovative amalgam of DAWN OF THE DEAD, 28 DAYS LATER and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS designed for young people and one that doesn’t pander to its audience or insult their senses. And while the ending is a bit of a shrug, the rest of the ride is more than worth it.