Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have had an interesting roller coaster career thus far. Their first major success, “Catfish”, was a weirdly intense entry that put them on the map. Then they followed it up with perhaps the best “Paranormal Activity” film, number 3, and then the worst, number 4. But then their most recent release, “Nerve”, garnered some generally favorable reviews. So where will their newest film, “Viral”, land on the spectrum? Let’s find out.
In “Viral” a strange parasitic virus sweeps across the nation throwing our country into chaos. However, for two teenage girls the outbreak provides a reprieve from parental drama and the chance for one of the sisters to finally cut loose and be free. However, their teenage paradise is soon shattered when the parasite hits close to home.
At it’s core, “Viral” is a decent coming of age drama about two sisters. On one end you have Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) the rebellious and, sometimes, mean-spirited one that throws caution to the wind. On the other side you have Emma (Sofia Black-D’Elia) who dives headfirst into textbooks even when the world is on the brink of destruction. If you’ve seen any sort of teen drama before then you can probably predict how their relationship will push and pull throughout the film until they reach some inevitable conclusion about their sisterly bound.
However, that relationship can’t be forced to develop without some sort of conflict. Enter the parasite. This wormy little creature infects its host through blood splatter, so you get a few great scenes of people inexplicably having their mouth open just in time to get blood sprayed into their orifices. Once infected with the parasite they start to turn into slightly weird looking humans with mannerisms similar to the vampires in “The Strain.” We actually don’t get to learn too much about the parasite during the movie, instead it’s almost more of an invisible threat that exists in the film’s periphery. Really, they could just be zombies and it wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference.
Still, the inclusion of the parasite does allow them to do some uncomfortably strange scenes. Like when the sisters stumble upon a room full of infected people with long wormy strands pouring out of their mouth into one central host. If that kind of creepy crawly stuff gives you the willies you’ll find a few good moments here.
And while it feels like “Viral” presents a lot of familiar tropes and ideas, I found the film to still be well written and entertaining. Sofia and Analeigh have great chemistry together and have some genuinely funny moments before things get crazy. And when it gets crazy they’re able to bring out their emotions and deliver compelling performances that make their relationship feel genuine.
The supporting cast is also exceptionally talented and even features Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) as the loving science geek father of the two girls. Quite a change from his “House of Cards” persona. The film has some surprisingly punchy dialog and these actors do a good job of running with the material.
It’s weird to say this about a film that features giant worms being pulled out of people’s necks, but “Viral” is a charming and heartfelt experience. But there isn’t enough to it to really make it stand out. There’s definitely something here and you feel like they almost had it figured out, but it just never gets there. There are a lot of good components in this film like the dialog, performances, and relationship building but the film is missing some key element to tie them all together. It’s the kind of film that’ll capture your attention while it’s on, but not leave a lasting impression with you. Still, if you have any interest in seeing it I do recommend it. I definitely think this is the kind of film that’ll resonate with some people more than others.
“Viral” hits DVD on August 2nd.