It’s unlikely that anyone was champing at the bit for another zombie flick (although The Sadness is just around the corner accompanied by some ravenous hype) but Virus-32 barrels its way into the crowded genre with impressive craft and just enough personality to make it a worthwhile addition.
When a virus turns the citizens of Montevideo into vicious zombies, Mother and daughter Iris (Paula Silva) and Tata (Pilar Garcia) find themselves holed up in the crumbling, deserted leisure centre at which Iris works half-heartedly as a security guard. What at first seems like a potential sanctuary becomes a trap, and when the pair are separated Iris desperately tries to save her daughter and come to terms with her feckless past that caused her family to break up.
Gustavo Hernández is best-known for his $6k chiller The Silent House, notable for being presented as one unbroken take. He indulges his fondness for lengthy tracking shots again here, using drone footage to drift between the houses of those becoming affected by the virus until it settles on our heroine Iris. It’s a neat piece of scene-setting reminiscent of the sweeping camera of Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night. The other instantly intriguing element is the viral idiosyncrasy that gives the film its title. Once the infected have sated themselves with an attack, they revert to a dormant state for 32 seconds, becoming increasingly twitchy as the seconds tick by. It isn’t a tectonic shock to the genre’s foundation but allows for some tense moments of strategy and misdirection from the increasingly resourceful Iris.
Paula Silva does a fine job at locating a beating heart at the centre of the film, ensuring Virus-32 impresses on more levels than Hernández agile camera and its stygian, labyrinthine location. Human connection is emphasised throughout, and Iris and Tata’s reconciliation is the pivot for the story. We gradually piece together Iris’ story from shards of her shattered life and the film becomes not just a story of survival, but of redemption. The theme of human bonds in extremis is also in evidence through a husband (Daniel Hendler) and his infected wife (Sofía González) who has gone into labour. These arcs are broadly drawn, yet hit an empathetic chord that makes it easy to invest in the characters.
While a pulsating and frenetic take on the genre, Virus-32 still carries the inescapable sense of over-familiarity. It falls very firmly into the post-28 Days Later tradition of fast zombies, complete with the attendant debate on whether they can be called zombies at all. As in Danny Boyle’s game-changer, the virus causes uncontrollable murderous aggression, yet leaving agility and intelligence intact. The effect is more in line with the antagonists of Romero’s The Crazies then those of his Dead trilogy.
Despite the unavoidable fatigue that comes with yet another zombie movie, albeit one that tries something just a little different, Virus-32 is likely to be among the pick of the recent crop thanks to the wise decision to foreground the human element. Silva’s protagonist is matched by solid support throughout, particularly from young Pilar Garcia, and the infected feel like a genuine threat. It’s meat and potatoes fare, but a hearty portion of it.
Screening on Shudder now