None of the four short films featured in horror omnibus V/H/S: Viral is consistently involving, but they are all fitfully unsettling thanks to their creators’ mutual fixation on gross trompe l’oeil visual effects. Each propulsive segment features a handful of disturbing sequences: the sudden disappearance of a woman who gets sucked into her chair; a brief close-up of a cloaked skeleton as it attacks an off-camera meat puppet.
But such pleasures barely compensate for the vapidity of V/H/S: Viral‘s sketches. Shorts like “Dante the Great” and “Bonestorm” are most representative of the film’s fleeting charms, as both follow hatefully moronic thrill-seekers who inexplicably document supernatural mishegoss as if their lives depended on it. Both installments’ characters — obnoxious amateur magician Dante (Justin Welborn) and a fame-hungry group of teenage skateboarders, respectively — prove as interesting as they are memorably violent. So Dante only catches your eye when he uses a magical cape to telepathically eviscerate a rabbit, while those skaters only come to life when frantically dispatching machete-wielding Mexican demon-worshippers.
By contrast, “Parallel Monsters” is immersive in spite of timid protagonist Alfonso (Gustavo Salmerón), a scientist who cautiously explores a parallel universe. By hinting at the alien nature of Alfonso’s new surroundings through found objects, like a picture frame and an ominous constellation map, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Open Windows) builds up to some deliriously shocking creature effects.
V/H/S: Viral‘s other entries aren’t as thoughtful as “Parallel Monsters,” but their varying quality makes you appreciate Vigalondo’s contribution that much more.
See also: The 11 Best Found-Footage Horror Movies