Virus: Derivative Story-Telling … You Are Virus

Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Odds are that every big name actor or actress has one movie to their credit they’d wish away. George Clooney has Return to Horror High. Jennifer Aniston has Leprechaun. And Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger have Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. As one of horror’s favourite ‘Scream Queens’, Jamie Lee Curtis boasts an impressive scary movies résumé. But even Curtis has the odd genre misfire. In fact, she’s has gone on record, referring to this movie as a ‘piece of shit’. That movie is 1999 aquatic horror outing, Virus. But is Virus really that bad? Or has time lifted it to ‘so bad, it’s good’ status?


A salvage crew on the deep seas stumbles upon a seemingly abandoned Russian research vessel. Tempted by a big financial windfall, the crew begins picking apart the ship. But when a lone survivor stumbles out of hiding with stories of an electrical alien life form, the skeptical salvagers quickly learn that something is indeed lurking in the ship’s dark corridors. And it has decided that humanity is a virus that must be eliminated.

Virus a Mishmash of Ideas From Other (Better) Movies

No one expects every movie to re-invent the wheel. Sometimes a good, but familiar, premise can be re-fashioned in an exciting and fresh ways. And in many cases, familiar premises just get re-hashed like checking off boxes in a list. Sadly, in spite of an interesting setting, Virus falls into the latter category. From its basic story to the one-note characters, Virus anchors itself with uninspired story-telling. Once again we’re treated to a story of an alien or sentient technology unimpressed with humanity. Earlier in 1999, The Matrix pulled off the same idea with far more innovative story-telling. Even low-budget sci-fi grinder Hardware executed the same concept with more soul.

And in many cases, familiar premises just get re-hashed like checking off boxes in a list. Sadly, in spite of an interesting setting, Virus falls into the latter category.

Aside from its lifeless take on the concept, Virus takes a formulaic trip through its plot points. Pause the movie after 10 minutes and take a quick survey of the cast. In all likelihood, most viewers will know be able to pick out who dies and in what order. Yes, characters will foolishly venture into dark corridors alone. Despite the utter stupidity of it, one character will greedily conspire with the alien lifeforce to better themselves. And you’ll be able to pick out the character – it’s the one who talks a lot about money and ‘their cut’. Will anyone survive? Probably. If you’re not sure who, just look at who gets top-billing? The bigger question – will you care.

Decent Special Effects and Quick Pacing Keep Virus Afloat

In spite of all its cons, Virus still remains watchable. If it’s not quite a ‘guilty pleasure’, the movie has enough self-awareness to keep things moving quickly. Like a bubblegum pop song, Virus hits its cynically familiar beats and gets to where it needs to be with efficiency. There’s little to nothing in the way of suspense or scares, but the movie knows to not overstay its welcome. With respect to its special effects, Virus actually remains pretty impressive after over 20 years. The bio-mechanical ‘Frankenstein’s monsters’ actually hint at what could have been if a better screenplay existed. When you take in these effects with the movie’s brisk jaunt to the finish line, Virus avoids being a complete time-waster.

Jamie Lee Curtis Wishes She Had Booked a Ticket Out On The Terror Train

Somehow Virus assembled an impressive cast of stars and good character actors. In addition to Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland, William Baldwin boards ship to play the movie’s chisel-jawed hero. And contrary to expectation, Baldwin turns in the movie’s best performance. Of course, it’s likely due to his largely playing the entire thing with a straight face and limited range. In contrast, Curtis looks absolutely bored with everything going on around her. She clearly knows the movie is a trainwreck and wishes she was back on 80’s slasher Terror Train.

“You are virus”.

Though he’s a talented actor with a laundry list of memorable roles, Sutherland is dreadful in Virus. The scenery-chewing toggle is turned to ‘maximum’, with Sutherland even evoking an inexplicable accent. Think Jon Voight in Anaconda. Some other ‘hey, it’s that guy’ actors chip in. Fans of Fear The Walking Dead will recognize Cliff Curtis (Doctor Sleep). Unbelievably, Virus is the Kiwi actor’s third aquatic horror movie, including The Meg and Deep Rising.

Virus a Dull, Derivative Effort Best Left in the ’90s

Virus isn’t so much a bad movie, while it’s certainly not a good one by any means. Instead, Virus is a dull, forgettable collection of ideas from much better movies. To its credit, the movie does move along at a quick enough pace to at least keep you watching. Not much, if anything, in the movie will intrigue or excite. Conversely, Virus is never ridiculously stupid enough to hit that sweet spot of ‘guilty pleasure’. The missile escape comes close; more scenes like this one would have helped. But Virus takes itself too seriously. As a result, it’s just another 90’s sci-fi horror best left in that decade.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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