This week’s Shudder exclusive film, Virus: 32, is a self-proclaimed zombie film that is about to reignite the debate about what makes a zed a zed. I remember a surge arising on this topic following the release of Danny Boyle’s end of days horror-drama 28 Days Later. The film rekindled big screen zombies, leading to the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead two years later and countless other zombie films and television programs. But here it is twenty years since Boyle turned every exciting opportunity for me to discuss new zombie movies with friends into a debate about whether they were zombies or infected Crazies.
So, what makes a zombie a zombie? Technically speaking, they’re dead, flesh-eating monsters that seek to propagate their infection by biting their victims. Furthermore, zombies can only be killed when a connection to the brain is severed. Crazies comparatively are drawn to humans but are capable of vicious acts that don’t involve gnawing on their victims. Turned by a chemical change in the atmosphere, they don’t propagate and only live to incite violence against humanity. The funny part of all of this is that no matter how you look at it, we’re debating the nuances of master filmmaker George A. Romero who created both modern concepts. Virus: 32 blurs those lines the same way Boyle did in 2002, asking yourself: “Is Virus: 32 really a zombie movie?”
Pushing semantics aside, let me tell you about Gustavo Hernández’s latest film. Virus: 32 starts with Iris (Paula Silva) getting ready to take an extra shift as a security guard at a rec center when her daughter, Tata (Pilar Garcia), shows up unexpectedly. We get from some inferred backstory that things are far more complicated than they seem, learning their family was broken apart by tragedy some time ago and today is the anniversary of the event. The film doesn’t linger in emotion, and the plot moves along immediately as we witness the blaring of police sirens and passing acts of violence. The film’s use of drone cameras brings the apocalypse to the streets of Montevideo through smokestacks in the distance, and ancillary aggressive behavior as Iris and Tata walk the few blocks to Iris’ job.
As the sun sets, the violence becomes more prominent. Iris, leaving Tata to play while she makes her rounds in the facility, witnesses two men fighting in the ally outside and quickly finds that the place she’s meant to protect isn’t as secure as she thinks. Trying to get back to her daughter as the infected swarm the building, Iris meets Luis (Daniel Hendler), who promises to help her find her daughter if Iris can help him with his pregnant infected wife. Javi teaches Iris what he knows about the situation and how to fight back against the super-predatory humans that move faster and attack stronger than normal humans. After an attack, the two learn that they have thirty-two seconds to regenerate their stamina before viciously pouncing again.
Virus: 32 isn’t anything particularly new. The film’s storyline is a somewhat generalized formula that we’ve seen in countless horror and action films before, separating a parent from their child and creating a harrowing path back to them. Even with a conceptually different thirty-two-second window that you’d think would set the film apart from the rest of the zombie genre, there isn’t much originality in the movie. The window is used as you’d think it would be for the characters to get by stationary groups of the infected, but it’s not like we haven’t seen that in The Walking Dead, last year’s Army of the Dead, or even in Silent Hill with the faceless nurses. And Luis’ pregnant infected wife begins the “will it be a zombie?” debate and makes Luis resemble Mekhi Phifer’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) character. Every idea feels plucked from other films, stitching together an amalgamated Frankenstein of a zombie thriller.
The best reason to watch the film is Virus: 32’s stylization. The color palette and cinematography are gorgeous and will likely be the most remarkable part of the film for many people. The heavy, sickening yellows, deep reds, and calming blues are used meticulously well as if they craft a complementing story to Iris’ dread-filled emotional journey. In one scene, the smoke from a flare fills a pool area, providing a dense fog of yellow and red as the characters attempt to cloak their presence and flee the area. Red, an obvious sign of danger, mixed with the disquieting yellows, help embody the emotional weight of the moments prior as our characters escape the scene. The tonal compass of the film’s colorization is impeccable and keeps Virus: 32 from becoming unmemorable.
That being said, and given the references to various Zack Snyder films I’ve already mentioned, perhaps there is something to be said for style over substance. In less capable hands, Virus: 32 might be akin to a direct to video rental that utilizes the qualities of bigger hits to sell itself, think Boa, King Cobra, and Python after the release of Anaconda.
In director Gustavo Hernández’s hands, Virus: 32 is the very best product it can be, and that’s saying a lot. The movie itself is relentlessly generic, but Hernandez, who’s known for the atmospheric single-shot horror film, The Silent House, has injected that level of creativity into Virus: 32, extending it beyond the easily recognizable recycled material that it is. I think there isn’t a whole lot we haven’t seen from zombie films at this point. They’re still enjoyable for what they are, and Virus: 32 remains highly watchable. It may act as a throwback to those aforementioned zombie films from the early 2000s, but if it were sitting next to those titles on a video store shelf, you’d likely overlook it in favor of Boyle or Snyder.
Virus: 32 will premiere exclusively on Shudder on April 21.