#31in31 2017 – “Viral” (2016)

“Listen to me, this is important; the whole county is under quarantine.”

Story: The small county of Shadow Canyon finds itself under quarantine as “Worm Flu” spreads through the USA. Two teen sisters find themselves stuck at home while their parents are trapped outside of quarantine. What else is there to do but hit a PAR-ATY! I’m sure nobody infected will show.

Scares: Genuinely effective creep, dread, and horror.

Splat factor: Fair to middling. But there’s more than enough spooky instead.

Closing scene “shocker”?: NO. Can I get an amen?

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul)?: Another apocalypse story, but this one’s original.

Trick or Treat?: This film definitely gets a thumbs up. Feels like a mash-up of 80s funtime horrors Night of the Comet and Night of the Creeps. Two sisters – one level headed & one chaotic – must battle for their lives against an outbreak of parasitic worms. Bring on the Aqua-Net!

But this film definitely has a modern spin, even when the obligatory technology grid shutdown occurs. As these teens live in the sticks, the teens there know about the “virus” from “is that real?” YouTube videos shared with friends over Skype/FaceTime/Facebook Live. When the neighborhood gets sparce, the survivors seem savvier than their 80s counterparts. Not that these kids don’t do stupid stuff – they do – but for the most part they have a solid backing of social media acquired common sense.

I was happily surprised at the level of screenwriting and acting here. The filmmakers kept costs down by keeping the film in a suburban enclave in the boonies, but as the story focuses on the two sisters, that works perfectly. And while we get an idea of what’s going on, by the time things reach Our Town the parasite mutates, which amps things up nicely.

Minimalism works exceedingly well here across the board; mostly coughing blood, worms under the skin, and veiny appearance makeup FX get the infected point across. The main focus is on one house, keeping things claustrophobic. A scene where two teens are on a rooftop looking at smoke rising from areas further out is eerily effective, combining shivers and heartbreak in a beautifully simple shot.

There’s a misstep here and there, when the film dates itself by using a quote from “current” President Obama in the credits, and later in the film. (I MISS YOU BARRY BAMS!) There’s also a ton of fun horror tropes as well: lying about infection, covering for friends/loved ones, heavily militarized CDC presence, and of course, the one guy who knows how to fight parasitic infection – who just so happens to be the dad of our two girls – is outside of the quarantine area.

I’d have been tempted to give Viral a decent score simply for the lack of the typical gotcha ending, and the light hand it has with the jump scare. But Viral is a fun bit of shiver with a solid story about survival, sisterly bonds…and worms. Check it out.

Score: 4 out of 5 pumpkins.

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