Main cast: Analeigh Tipton (Stacey), Sofia Black D’Elia (Emma), and Travis Tope (Evan Klein)
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Viral is a modestly budgeted but well-acted flick. Despite what the movie poster and marketing materials would suggest, it is not truly a horror movie. In fact, it is not very scary at all. Neither is it action-packed or gruesome. Perhaps the film people are trying to go for those hybrid movie thing with this one, but what they end up with instead is more of a movie confused about what it wants to be.
Stacey and Emma are two ordinary teenagers with the usual angst. The elder sister, Stacey, is being all moody and angst-ridden because she knows that her parents’ marriage is on the rocks, thanks to his infidelity, and she can’t help feeling responsible for causing the tension between those two. Emma doesn’t know about her parents, so she feels that something is wrong. She also has a crush on the boy next door, Evan. Teen drama has to take a backseat, though, when a strange virus breaks out.
Actually, it’s not really a virus, it’s more of a parasite infestation, as worm-like creatures would infect a person and eventually take over the person’s mental faculties, turning that person into something bent on vomiting its blood on other people in order to propagate its species.
Anyway, when their mother is stuck at the airport due to all the traffic problems caused by the police and military trying to nab people who are infected (without telling the people what is happening, of course), their father heads out to pick her up, leaving our two girls alone. Despite messages on the TV telling everyone to stay at home and observe the quarantine, Stacey decides to throw a party and invites all the kids from school. What a shocker – an infected person shows up and all hell breaks loose. Stacey eventually becomes infected, and Emma and Evan now have to hide her from the military who will want to take her away.
The build-up of this movie is good. The script takes its time to flesh out Stacey and Emma are believable teens that I can at least understand, if not root for, and even if Travis Tope has a creepy man-child vibe going on, he’s not too bad at all. There is a well-wrought sense of suspension and mounting panic in this movie as the teenagers find themselves in a situation that they can barely control. The infected people are appropriately menacing and creepy, although the worm CGI is pretty fake-looking and even unintentionally comical at times.
But this movie falls apart in its late third or so, when all of a sudden it wants to go from a suspenseful survival horror flick into something more like a young adult dystopian novel adaptation. Emma becomes very reliant on Evan, who morphs into an action hero-ish sort. Perhaps my biggest disappointment is what a dud Emma turns out to be – she is passive for the most part, and when she insists on doing something, it’s always something that is horrifically wrong or dangerous that I can only cringe. It’s a shame that Stacey is the one infected – she’s a far more interesting character than her useless sister; this movie may be more enjoyable if the other sister is the one infected.
Anyway, Viral is a pretty decent movie and its cast delivers some above average acting that makes it one stand out from the rest. But the scares are few and the thrills are just as meager, and when it eventually tries to be a more action-y movie, it can’t deliver that well either. This is one film that is carried to the finish line by the cast, and whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether you have anything else you’d rather watch instead.