Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent Content, some Language including Sexual References, and Teen Partying
Directed by: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Written by: Christopher Landon & Barbara Marshall
Starring: Analeigh Tipton, Sofia Black D’Elia, Travis Trope, Richard Colson Baker, Michael Kelly & Judyann Elder
Fun fact: VIRAL was originally slated to hit theaters nationwide in February, but got shat out onto video-on-demand one week before being unceremoniously dumped onto home video. This didn’t exactly bode well for the outbreak horror flick, but I gave it a curious watch anyway. There’s no mystery regarding why this thing was pulled from theaters. VIRAL is boring, silly, and feels like a teeny-bopper PG-13 horror flick that happens to be rated R. The characters are unlikable, the plot has been seen a million times before, and the would-be frights are laughably ineffective. This is one delayed horror release that absolutely deserves to be dumped and forgotten.
Emma (Sofia Black D’Elia) and Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) are two sisters who constantly get on each other’s nerves. While Stacey is a rambunctious party girl, Emma is a reserved nerd. However, the two mismatched siblings are forced to work together, when a “worm flu” breaks out in their small town. This contagious infection takes over a human host and spreads by nasty little worms that spray from the infected person’s body. The government cuts off all exits around the town and the parasite quickly spreads across the community. When an idiotic teenage party goes awry, the sisters find themselves fighting a threat within their own home.
That plot synopsis might have already showcased some of VIRAL’s big problems. The characters are generic teenagers and make really stupid decisions. The two sisters are walking clichés that I couldn’t feel anything for from the start. As a result, when later events occur, I found myself bored out of my mind and waiting for the film to end. Speaking of which, this movie runs at only 85 minutes, but feels like two hours. It’s poorly paced to the point where the story only starts to become slightly interesting in the final third.
I can’t fully blame the film’s shoddy performances on the cast, minus one exception. The script was clearly half-assed and lazy from the get-go. Sofia Black D’Elia and Analeigh Tipton seem to be putting in some effort, but they can’t make the bland material come alive. Only two supporting actors stick out. Travis Trope plays Emma’s generic love-interest, Evan. This character might have remained nameless for all the impact he has in the proceedings, other than serving as a cheap plot device. The worst character comes in Stacey’s gangsta boyfriend, CJ (played Richard Colson Baker, a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly), who’s played up as embarrassing comic relief and had me rooting for him to meet a painful death in his introduction.
Though they only make up about fifteen minutes of running time, VIRAL’s infected monsters are silly beyond belief. These “zombies” have worm-like appendages that come out of their mouths and faces, reminding one of 1998’s far superior THE FACULTY, and make all sorts of over-the-top guttural noises (ranging from GRUDGE-like throat croaks to high-pitched squeals to straight-up dinosaur growls). They also have the ability to body-slam someone by leaping through a window in a hilariously goofy moment. The only cool scene from these infected Worm Flu victims comes in a rather gnarly gore gag that plays out like an extended parasite removal YouTube video.
VIRAL is a dull, dreary, and stupid excuse of a horror flick that contributes nothing of real merit. There’s no mystery behind why Blumhouse shelved this mess for months. It’s a teeny-bopper flick that couldn’t bring in money from its target audience, because they weren’t old enough to drive to the movie theater in the first place. I wasn’t expecting VIRAL to be amazing or one of 2016’s best horror flicks, but I expected something halfway decent. Instead, this is a terrible contagion/zombie film that is far more likely to put the viewer to sleep than to scare them in any way, shape or form. Unless you want to endure a painful viewing experience that makes THE 5TH WAVE look like a masterpiece, I’d recommend skipping this one and pretending it doesn’t exist.