At face value, Shudder’s latest original release, Virus-32, may feel like a case of ‘been there, done’ that’. For over a decade, zombies were all the rage in horror. While The Walking Dead scored huge ratings, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and the Resident Evil franchise scared up dollars at the box office. From zombies on trains to found-footage zombies, it feels like we’ve seen just about every twist on the premise imaginable. Even The Walking Dead seems to be running on fumes. But this Argentinian zombie entry squeezes out a bit more life from the subgenre.
In the Uruguay capital, Montevideo, a virus rapidly spreads through the populace. Infected turn into primal killers spreading waves of violence across the streets. As chaos unfolds, single mother Iris finds herself and her daughter, Tata, trapped inside a sports gym where she works as a security guard. When mother and daughter are separated, Iris desperately navigates the building’s dark halls to find Tata. Her only chance – the infected lapse into a catatonic state for 32 seconds after each attack.
Virus-32 Wastes Little Time As It Delivers Relentless Suspense
Though its premise sounds like a riff on 28 Days Later, Virus-32 shares little in common with Danny Boyle’s classic. Both movies conceptualize ‘zombies’ as rabid infected rather than ‘walking dead’. And that’s where the similarities end. By limiting its scope to the confines of the movie’s run down gym complex, Virus-32 offers a very different, stripped down approach to the material. Writer and director Gustavo Hernandez wastes little time with exposition or table-setting. That is, Virus-32 immediately opens with a quietly disturbing scene that pans away to expansive shots of the virus running amok through city streets. In a short span of time, Hernandez then introduces us to Iris and her daughter – hinting at a tragic past – before putting them in danger.
…Virus-32 immediately opens with a quietly disturbing scene …
What follows is an almost relentlessly paced roller-coaster of suspenseful cat-and-mouse punctuated by unnerving acts of violence. Not one but several scenes immediately stand out. Whether it’s Iris’ slow advance through a locker room, row by row, with infected maybe lurking around the corner or a birth gone horribly wrong, Virus-32 aptly balances traditional jump scares with drawn out suspense. Arguably, Hernandez gets the most mileage out of his ’32 second rule’ in a narrow hallway with ‘infected’ temporarily immobilized on either end.
Virus-32 Succeeds By Following Simple Rules of Horror
Another plus of Virus-32 is Hernandez’s decision to keep the story simple. Rather than burden the suspense with exposition and background, Virus-32 immediately drops you into a spreading infection. It’s a story decision that trusts the audience’s ability to pick up on little details and aligns with a tried and true horror adage – what you don’t know is often scarier than what you do know. Moreover, ambiguity around the infection’s origins and nature allows Hernandez to set up a well-earned sequel. Perhaps Iris’ discovery of the ’32-second rule’ feels a bit convoluted. But that’s a minor complaint for a movie where everything else works so well.
By the time the climax rolls around, you want to see Iris escape with Tata.
Where Virus-32 further distinguishes itself from bigger zombie movies – like last year’s Army of the Dead – is the mother-daughter relationship at the core of the story. Hernandez drops bits of background information here and there before separating Iris and Tata. But it’s enough character to drive home Iris’ desperation to save her daughter and overcome her past shortcomings. By the time the climax rolls around, you want to see Iris escape with Tata. It lends an emotional relevancy to the movie that heightens the suspense. And Paula Silva gives an absolutely heart-wrenching performance with much of the movie resting on her shoulders.
Virus-32 Isn’t Just a Great Zombie Movie, It’s a Great Horror Movie
If your initial impulse is to skip over Virus-32 because you’re worn out on the zombie genre, do yourself a favor – watch this movie. In addition to being one of the better zombie movies in recent memory, Virus-32 is one of the better horror movies of the year so far. Hernandez gets the most out of his simple premise as he delivers several white-knuckle moments alongside an emotionally-driven story. This isn’t just a good zombie movie, it’s a great horror movie.