As beaten, shot, torched, blown-up and hacked to death as the zombie picture is, Uruguayan
Gustavo Hernández finds a way to give us something that at least feels fresh in the genre.
“Virus-32” or “Virus :32” is as pitiless as it is stylish.
The arresting filming style is established in a killer long-take opening, when we see a kid being dropped off with her irresponsible mother as the camera swoops from close-up to soaring over rooftops and into the apartment of manic, ditzy Iris (Paula Silva), who will bring Tata along with her to work at “the club.”
There are probably cuts hidden within this five minute-plus shot, but it’s a bravura opening, tidily establishing characters (Tata is eight, with a skateboard and the arm in the cast that comes with it) and the loving dynamic between exes that makes us wonder what tore this marriage apart.
The “pitiless” part kicks in when the virus turns the populace into crazed and flesh-craving muertos vivientes who invade “the club” and Iris and Tata must cope with one of the defining dilemmas of horror — how to survive the zombie apocalypse.
We’ve checked out Iris’s pink-streaked hair, her piercings and her use of the word “club” (in Spanish with English subtitles). We’re pretty sure she’s the irresponsible type. But “club” means an athletic club that’s closed after hours. She’s a night watchman. Still, her new employers got the same “can’t trust her with anything” vibe that the viewer did. They didn’t give her a gun.
Iris and others will face awful choices and fates worse than death as writer-director Hernández spares few and shows little pity to the rest as we and Iris — naturally, mother and child get separated — must grasp what is happening and gather enough wits to cope, find her kid and keep her safe.
One thing the more observant survivors pick up on is this movie’s zombie pause mode. After they’ve attacked and killed somebody they stand there for :32 seconds before going about more of their bloody business.
Handy to know, still a stupid gimmick, but it is what it is. Not much is made of the first “infection” symptom, either — stigmata.
The grabber scenes involve avoiding joining the undead’s dinner menu by leaping into a pool (underwater zombie attacks) and Iris finding herself “rescued” only to owe the preternaturally calm Luis (Daniel Hendler), who did her a favor and expects one in return.
That involves helping his wife give birth. She’s infected. No, “The Walking Dead” birth scene has nothing on what we see here.
The trick to making a non-comic winner in this genre is early on stablishing how far you’re’ willing to go and just who and what you’re willing to sacrifice to make the viewer think “This nut’s gonna make us watch a gore-stained wretch devour a child and her puppy.”
Hernández gives us the idea that he will do the unexpected, and that it won’t be pretty.
But that’s not exactly true, as this is a beautifully shot film — gloom, smoke, smoke bombs and shadows dominate the visual palette. We see the first undead trying to get in through distorted shadowy hands and faces pressed against opaque windows.
The :32 second thing provides one dandy suspenseful sequence. And the stakes start out high and only go higher as there is that childbirth thing and we’re witnesses to a meaningful death or two, and not just wanton, anonymous video-game style slaughter.
It’s not all that original and not actually on a par with the benchmark films of this corner of horror, “Night of the Living Dead,” “28 Days Later,” “World War Z” and “Zombieland.” But Hernández shows a flair for thrillers and an eye for showy visual storytelling that, with his third film (after “La casa muda” and “You Shall Not Sleep”) establishes him as a horror director to watch.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence and lots of it
Cast: Paula Silva, Daniel Hendler
Credits: Scripted and directed by Gustavo Hernández. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:30