The Blumhouse suburban horror formula gets a twist with this parasitic chiller from the directors of Paranormal Activity 3 & 4 and Catfish. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman stick fairly rigidly to the location rules as set out by the production company’s flatpack manual, but the script by Barbara Marshall and veteran Christopher Landon does allow them to have a little more fun.
Emma (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and her older sister Stacey (Analeigh Tipton) have moved with their dad (Michael Kelly) to a small suburban neighbourhood, where he teaches science at their high school. Emma is struggling to fit in, but might have a chance at a connection with the boy next door (Travis Tope), and that infectious disease thing on the news is nothing to worry about. Right? Suddenly, Emma and Stacey are home alone under curfew as the contagion spreads and parasitic worms drive their human hosts to acts of brutal violence.
For most of its running time, Viral is a solid if unspectacular body horror. From the early frog dissection through to the evil black worms wriggling in and out of the ears of infected suburbans, there’s an obvious pleasure taken in gross-out shocks. It’s also clearly aimed at a young teen audience though, so don’t get too excited, Cronenberg fans. The footage and images that are presented in biology class are more revolting than any of the actual effects that we’re shown.
Black-D’Elia (The Night Of) is a sympathetic lead and handles the part of the responsible, slightly repressed ‘good sister’ well. Tipton, who’s impressed in films like Crazy Stupid Love and Warm Bodies, gets to have much more fun as the irresponsible older sister, delivering an impressive physical performance, while House Of Cards’ Michael Kelly is on hand to deliver the bulk of the early exposition.
While it’s all very predictable, Viral is consistently watchable, with some strong set pieces, a couple of moments to make the skin crawl, and a very solid pair of lead performances. There are certainly worse ways to spend 90 minutes.