Shudder Original, VIRUS :32 co-written by Juma Fodde and Gustavo Hernández (The Silent House) and directed by Hernández, is an intensely thrilling addition to an otherwise tired subgenre. I love a cold open. We meet Iris (Paula Silva), an absent mother to Tata (Pilar Garcia) and her child’s father, in her apartment where moments before, we discovered something was amiss with her neighbors upstairs. A beautiful aerial shot sweeps the audience over the city of Montevideo, watching helplessly as sirens blare, cars sit abandoned, and people run through the streets unbeknownst to Iris and her daughter as they make their way to the sports club where Iris works as a security guard. The destruction throughout the city is evident, but only the audience, from our bird’s eye viewpoint, is aware of the chaos about to ensue.
“What’s wrong with your neighbors? They seem to be killing each other.”
I knew this film would involve a fast-spreading contagion, and deadly rage-infected hunters, not unlike Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002), a film that took traditional zombie tropes and created a breed of infected that was unlike anything we’d seen before, but with a caveat, they weren’t undead. The infected in VIRUS :32 are becoming intelligent, ultra-violent, and incredibly fast hunters. After each attack, the monsters — who I’m not convinced are zombies — are left incapacitated for 32 seconds while they recover their strength. This short window is the key to survival.
Fermin Torres’ cinematography is stunning, helping to drive the bubbling tension and terror of Iris and Tata’s impending discovery of the creatures. In a scene where Tata is left alone to play, she kicks a ball into the wall with a loud bang. As the shot follows her feet to a basketball on the ground. Tata leaves the frame, and a pool of water on the floor reflects the fogged windows at the audience. In an instant, a silhouetted figure slams against the glass, leaving handprints of blood behind, backed by an intense and sinister score. The shot is immensely eerie and causes my heartbeat to quicken, fearing for Tata in anticipation of the moment escalating.
We learn that Iris is grieving an unimaginable loss that led to the fracture in her once happy family — a clue to this can be seen in the film’s cold open — it’s why she lives like a teenager and avoids spending time with her daughter, Tata. When Iris witnesses a violent act, and the police are of no help, afraid and distressed, she makes her way to Tata. This is another scene with a unique use of security cameras to show the audience information that Iris does not have while making her way to Tata. As the shot pans from left to right and back again, we must watch in anxiety-ridden horror as an uninvited guest crawls through open windows into the building. As Iris ensures the doors of the building are secured, she hears a loud crash and, while investigating, spots the intruder before the enraged hunter attacks. Iris narrowly escapes while the hunter screams from the other side of a locked door. Frantic, she searches for Tata as her maternal instincts kick in.
Those instincts, Iris’ trauma over her loss, and the peril of their situation give us something to relate to and invest in. Silva’s performance is the film’s highlight, expertly portraying Iris’ transition from an absentee carefree parent to her embrace of motherhood and her willingness to sacrifice anything to ensure her child's safety. She must succeed where she has failed before, and rooting for her is easy.
VIRUS :32 may not be breaking new ground or furthering the genre, but the narrative is portrayed cleverly, and Hernández’s focus on trauma rather than clichés is refreshing. The film is taut and skillfully paced without missing a dramatic beat. I’m wholly satisfied with my viewing experience as a zombie film enthusiast. It’s difficult to fulfill audiences these days, given the many tired attempts and breathing new life into the genre, but I was delightfully surprised. The film portrays how we can derive strength from our past traumas to survive the unimaginable.