BY Chad Collins
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Virus-32 is undoubtedly one of the most original zombie offerings in recent years.
The modern zombie is Danny Boyle’s zombie movie. While technically not zombies but instead those infected with the aggression-inducing rage virus, Boyle and 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland subverted undead tropes with a legion of fast-moving, omnipresent, interminably violent monsters. Since then, the likes of Dawn of the Dead, Train to Busan, and #Alive have relished in a world of flesh-eaters whose physical acuity and endurance match those of humans. In other words, these aren’t Romero’s zombies anymore. Storming through the gates with a mutated virus of its own, Gustavo Hernández’s Virus-32 has a clear appetite for its inspirations while gnawing out a path all its own. Grisly, wickedly suspenseful, and gloriously staged, Virus-32 is undoubtedly one of the most original zombie offerings in recent years.
Virus-32 borrows liberally from sundry other undead set-ups. After a protracted opening beat to tease the forthcoming carnage, Paula Silva’s Iris finds herself in a bind when ex-husband Javier (Franco Rilla) drops their daughter Tata (Pilar Garcia) off at Iris’s Montevideo flat. Working as a security guard at an enormous, though quasi-decrepit, recreation center, Iris is consigned to take Tata to work with her. But, she’s unaware of the slowly unfurling carnage just down the street. Hernández, like the best of them, gives audiences just enough time to know Iris and Tata—their grief and their longing to connect—before delivering what audiences for a movie titled Virus-32 expect.
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Not long after arriving at the facility, Iris sends Tata off on her own while she completes her rounds. Here she violates a cardinal horror movie rule and swiftly meets the consequences of her actions. She’s assailed by the undead, frenzied creatures who have broken in from outside. Iris and Tata are separated, and the entirety of Virus-32 tracks Iris’s attempts to find her daughter and escape before one or both of them are killed.
If it sounds, familiar, it’s because it is. No different than the slasher subgenre, resurrections of Romero’s monsters in recent years have been ad-libbed iterations of the classic formula. A… single mother in… a recreation facility… and so on. Yet, as familiar as the set-up is, Hernández leans heavily into the nihilism of it all. He crafts an absolutely unforgiving and punishingly tense zombie movie. Almost entirely contained in the recreation facility, Virus-32 is dripping with tension and atmosphere. A setting ripped straight from a survival horror game, Hernández leans into the likes of Resident Evil and The Last of Us as Iris slowly crouches and creeps, desperate not to draw too much attention to herself.
In an absolutely stellar set piece filmed in one long take, Iris must contend with rows of lockers and several shuffling infected to reach the staircase on the other side. Interminably suspenseful, Iris crawls in and out of shadows, deploys distractions, and hides in the many available lockers as she strategically navigates from one point to another. Though it ends with the requisite, expected (though incredibly effective) jolt, it’s Hernández’s patience and commitment to classic elements of suspense that elevate the Virus-32’s middle act.
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The production values consistently augment the sense of space and contained, claustrophobic horrors. Virus-32 never once feels like anything less than a bonafide production. The legions of the undead are gloriously realized by a large, uncredited cast. These zombies are fast, hungry, and staged fittingly. They leap, crawl, foam, and pursue Iris with the ferocity of a rabid animal, a kind of “Cujo, but make him a zombie” riff. Which, of course, says nothing of the central conceit, namely the awareness that after an attack, the undead pause for precisely 32 seconds before getting back up. More than just a distinct qualifier, Hernández makes frequent use of the core premise, staging several white-knuckle sequences set against a ticking clock.
Virus-32 is a contender for the best zombie movie of the year. It revitalizes a subgenre that shows no intention of slowing down, reminding audiences of why the undead and their quest for flesh have endured for so long. While it’s not quite as revolutionary as what came before it and has a nasty habit of being cruel for cruelty’s sake, it’s a genuinely frightening, pulse-pounding reminder of the zombie’s storied place in horror history.
Virus-32 premieres on Shudder on April 21.