★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Gustavo Hernández.
The 1930s and 40s brought us ghoulish voodoo zombies. The 1960s and 70s graciously brought us trundling brain-fixated zombies. The early 2000s somewhat quixotically brought us hyper-speed zombies. And now in the 2020s we’re being treated (emphasis on the sarcasm) to sadistic, cruel, and mean-spirited zombies. Good, bad, or indifferent this is the brutish zombie world we now live in.
Not to be confused with 2022’s morally repugnant, the Sadness, Virus:32 actually has some pretty redeeming qualities. Also from 2022, Virus:32 set in Montevideo is a decidedly different film than its Taiwanese cousin. Make no mistake, Virus:32 has some awfully nasty zombies, but the big distinction is that there is a fundamental kindness and lack of horrifying misogyny and ugliness that befalls the zombie fete that is the Sadness.
Virus:32, directed by Gustavo Hernández, follows a wonderfully simple story involving a mother, Iris (Paula Silva) and her daughter Tata (Pilar Garcia) as they set out to unpack a virus-infested world that’s crumbling before their very eyes. Iris is not the best mom. She parties, she drinks, and she does rather questionable job raising her pre-teen daughter.
Iris exists in a marginal world with a marginal job as a security guard for a massive athletic facility in complete disrepair. Interestingly, just as zombie films of the past have given us deep and meaningful metaphors for societal collapse, Virus:32 appears to do the same. Whereas Night of the Living Dead was a bold commentary on the Viet Nam war and race relations, and Dawn of the Dead focused on unbridled and grotesque consumerism, Virus:32 seems to be intimating that the health club/athletic facility is that backdrop for poor diet, lack of proper diet, and societal infighting regarding reasonable approaches to pandemic response.
In an attempt to gain time with her daughter Iris decides to sneak her in to the health club/athletic facility for her shift. As the two wander the massive and decrepit fitness tomb, the world outside is rapidly collapsing around them. Iris deftly places Tata in a massive gymnasium to effectively baby sit her daughter while she continues on with her security rounds. She assures her daughter that she’ll be able to see her at all times through an app that’s connected to the security cameras. The cameras take on a secondary found-footage-like quality as Iris roams through the dusty testament to exercise.
As far as zombie backdrops go, the he health club/athletic facility is exceptional. Dark, forbidding, and bleak. The perfect antidote to 1978’s Dawn of the Dead’s super-clean mall interior, this set is amazing from top to bottom.
The entirely unexplained zombie device that Virus:32 employs revolves around the number 32. Iris discovers that after the zombies kill they are satiated for exactly 32 seconds. This trance, if properly timed, can all Iris and her daughter to navigate the zombie hells cape.
Virus:32 contains some incredible drone footage throughout the film. It is however shot entirely on video which often gives the film the feeling of some far off distant soap-opera. It is a hair distracting at the front end of the film but the deft cinematography ultimately makes up for the weirdly chosen video style.
In addition, Virus:32 contains some (likely) funny nods to zombie films of the past. In a wonderful homage to 1979’s Zombi, Iris and a fellow survivor have to fight off a zombie in a pool. In an equally bleak nod to 2004’s remake of the Dawn of the Dead, we see the horrifying aerial carnage of society in total collapse.
What distances Virus:32 from the new era of sadistic zombies is its ability to connect with simple human emotions. Much in the same way that Train to Busan established a loving father/daughter relationship, Virus:32 is able to create scares while at the same time connecting audiences to a range of complex and deep emotional content. Not an easy task, but one that films like the Sadness didn’t even try to tackle.
Virus:32 is likely Rated R and currently playing on Shudder.