Virus 32 - New Release Review
Director: Gustavo Hernández
Starring: Rasjid César, Paula Silva, Sofía González, Daniel Hendler
Written by: Juma Fodde, Gustavo Hernández
Produced by: Sebastian Aloi, Ignacio García Cucucovich
Cinematography by: Fermin Torres
Original Score by: Hernán González
A rapid virus spreads through the streets of Montevideo that turns everyone infected into intelligent, ultra violent killers. Iris must find a way to protect her daughter and herself.
I have been rather hesitant, naturally with what has been going on around the world in the last 2 years, to watch any films that have the words "virus" "pandemic" "contagion" or "lockdown" and any other words of a similar ilk in their title or premise. Enough time has passed now though and I'm glad because 'Virus:32', essentially a new take on a zombie outbreak but set in Uruguay, is a gripping inclusion into an over saturated sub-genre that has sadly been spread super thin in recent years.
George A. Romero's 1978 classic 'Dawn of the Dead' had a secluded shopping mall and Gustavo Hernández' 'Virus:32' has an almost abandoned leisure centre. And that's not the only connection to 'Dawn of the Dead', although it actually borrows more from Zack Synder's 2004 remake of the same name and Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later', but on a considerably smaller scale. While not your traditional zombie creatures, the infected in Hernández' film are certainly closer to Snyder's version of the undead. They sprint with rage, screaming and snarling, extremely determined to catch, maim and destroy anybody who has yet to become infected. And it's pretty terrifying to watch them attack.
'Virus:32' opens in a small apartment with an elderly woman doing some light chores. The camera glides around as she calls out to her husband, who sits unresponsive in an armchair clutching his dead pet budgie in his hand. We then move outside and are treated to some gorgeous aerial drone shots of the inner city streets of Montevideo and our first real insight into something strange happening. People running, people screaming and buildings burning in the distance. It's not quite as obvious as Snyder's 2004 opening but it's the same idea.
We meet Iris and Javi, young parents who care deeply for their daughter Tata and are trying their best but who are clearly struggling to juggle work, extracurricular activities and the responsibilities of parenthood. I noticed instantly that there was a certain freedom in the camera movements, constantly in motion and sweeping around our characters. Presumably indicating the freedom with which they live and the potentially ever changing environment. As the film progresses and the danger gets closer the camera movements being less fluid.
Iris takes Tata to work with her as she takes on an extra shift at her security job at the local leisure centre facility. Iris lets Tata play in one of the gym halls as she relaxes in her office. It's just another boring shift, until the lights go out and she witnesses an attack outside the building. She becomes increasingly concerned and decides to lock all the doors but Tata has disappeared and after someone manages to climb in through an exposed window, Iris is desperate to get to her daughter before anything unsavoury goes down.
This may sound like a version of almost every other zombie outbreak film you've watched before and you wouldn't be entirely wrong in landing on that assumption. But screenwriter Juma Fodde introduces the element of the mysterious trance-like state that the infected slip into after an assault that lasts for, you've guessed it, approximately 32 seconds. Iris deduces this after witnessing a brutal attack on a poor cat (it really is awful, stop killing animals in films please) and she uses this new found knowledge to help her traverse the dark and eerie corridors of the leisure centre in order for her to find her daughter. This little gimmick, while original and unique, is really only effective during one extended sequence in which Iris and Tata must make their way to the other end of a long, infected-populated hallway towards the exit of the building.
Iris' journey to her daughter is complicated further when she meets Luis, who initially saves her from being attacked but then demands that she helps him deliver the baby that his infected wife is carrying. Another small nod to Snyder's 'Dawn' in reference to the circle of life and the difficult moral decisions that human beings are forced to deal with during their darkest moments.
Gustavo Hernández certainly is a stylish filmmaker. Most of the film is set within the beautifully dank and dilapidated leisure centre building where Iris works and there's plenty of cool smaller locations within that building for Hernández to play with. There's a really awesome sequence in a large empty swimming pool involving Iris and Luis trying to evade the oncoming herd of infected through the dense orange smoke of recently released flares. Shortly after that Luis' pregnant wife, who has been strapped into a wheelchair, is visited by an infected who teases cutting out the baby out from her belly. The film is rife with great ideas and just about manages to to be creative enough to not be another zombie outbreak clone. Hernández and cinematographer Fermin Torres do an exquisite job of making everything we're looking at pop off the screen. There's a lot of darkness in this film but Torres uses ambient and atmospheric lighting to really capture the mood and tone of the picture, especially during a fantastic scene towards the end when Iris believes that Tata has succumbed to the infected. The camerawork briefly changes to a selfie shoulder rig and Iris becomes drowned in a deep red hue as she is engulfed by claustrophobic grief. It's an incredible scene helped by the heartbreaking performance of Paula Silva, who really is fantastic throughout the entire picture, and the mournful score by Hernán González.
'Virus:32' might not win awards for being the most original horror film of the year but it's bursting at the seems with tension and even though the violence is often not seen onscreen, the emotional thread of the characters, especially in the finale is deeply affective.
- Gavin Logan
'Virus:32' is available to stream exclusively on Shudder from April 21st