Director: Gustavo Hernandez
Screenplay: Gustavo Hernandez, Juma Frodde
Review: RJ Bland
It's fair to say that the zombie sub-genre has become a tad saturated since the turn of the century. Although effectively dormant for a decade or so, Danny Boyle's terrific 28 Days Later (2002), Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zack Snyder's solid Dawn of the Dead remake (2004), breathed new life into one of the oldest branches of horror. By the time The Walking Dead had made a splash, the zombie sub-genre was fully resuscitated and on the rampage. But as with found-footage, viewers have become somewhat wearisome of it all. Sure, we've had some excellent additions – like Rec (2007), Pontypool (2008), Train to Busan (2016) – but the sheer volume of corpse munching has left most of us feeling a little apathetic. However, they say there is catharsis to be had through genre films and that the subject matter tends to reflect the ever-changing fears and anxieties of society. A pandemic and an escalating war in Europe means that catastrophe at a macro level now feels like a part of every day life. What better time to release another zombie movie eh? Enter Gustavo Hernendez's Virus-32, which has just been released on Shudder.
In modern day Montevideo, Iris is about to begin her night shift as a security guard at a large (but rather run-down) leisure centre. Before she leaves, an unexpected guest arrives. Her young daughter, Tata. Her husband tells her that she knew she was meant to be looking after her and that she needs to 'step up'. It's not entirely clear what the arrangement is between husband, wife and daughter but it's apparent that Iris is not exactly the most reliable parental figure right now. Iris decides to take Tata to work with her and once there, gives her a tour of the deserted leisure centre, which feels suitably ominous and creepy in the middle of the night. Iris leaves Tata in the gymnasium whilst she does her rounds and gives her a walkie talkie so they can stay in touch. Within minutes though, there's a power cut and Iris witnesses violent scenes on the street outside. To make things worse, someone else appears to be in the building with them, stalking the corridors with murderous intent...
Director Gustavo Hernandez is best known for his ultra low budget debut, The Silent House – a film perhaps most famous for the fact that the whole feature is one continuous shot. It's actually a really competent piece of film-making though and an American remake was greenlit shortly afterwards (which was perfectly ok but not as good as the original). The Silent House is a film all about tension building and a invoking a sense of menace – something that Hernandez repeats quite effectively in the first thirty minutes of Virus-32. However, once the action begins the subtlety is replaced with all out violence and visceral thrills.
In terms of offering a fresh take on the whole zombie thing, the clue is in the title. Although the origins of the virus itself are never really fully explored (which saves us a load of dry exposition), we learn quite quickly that after the infected commit an atrocity, they fall into a fugue state for 32 seconds – which is handy as it gives those trying to escape a little time window to get the hell out of there. It's an interesting little twist but aside from this, this is pretty straightforward zombie fare – but it's at least done with a certain level of panache and ferocity. Hernandez astutely gives us the impression of a large scale catastrophe unfolding whilst keeping the vast majority of the action self-contained and claustrophobic. The zombies themselves are from the Danny Boyle/Alex Garland playbook. They're not technically zombies (they are infected rather than reanimated corpses) and they are superfast and super savage. You won't find any shuffling types here. And as our lead navigates her way through the dingy corridors and shadowy hallways, trying to evade a surprisingly elusive threat, it almost feels like we're in the middle of a survival horror game.
Although the story implies a city (or nation) wide event is occurring, Hernandez and co-writer Juma Fodde anchor things with the imperfect paternal relationship between Iris and Tata. Paula Silva is especially good as the former, digging deep to portray a character that's not initially easy to root for but who goes on to earn our respect. Her husband throws down the gauntlet early on when he tells her she needs to 'step up' and she does her best to rise to the occasion. Cue much bloodshed and running and hiding and despair.
Virus-32 does not break any new ground per se. It will not kick start some kind of zombie renaissance. Strip away the 32 seconds element and it may struggle to stand apart from many of its peers. We've seen a lot of this before ultimately. However, the level of visual craft and violent thrills on offer will be more than enough to satisfy most.