As far as I can ascertain, it seems like zombie movies are fewer and farther in between recently. Perhaps we’re getting tired of seeing rabid droves mindlessly following the latest fad (your own personal politics will permit you to decide what I mean by that, I imagine). I’m not sure that Gustavo Hernández’s Virus 32 will do enough to reverse the interest in the genre, but that is a pretty big ask. And after all, this will likely do the job of satiating some fans who are looking for something new.
Virsus 32 following the activity of Iris (Paula Silva), a deadbeat single mother who brings her young daughter Tata (Pilar Garcia) to her work as a security guard after forgetting she had agreed to take her from her father for the day. This ends up being a relatively fortunate move, as the two of them remain safe if unaware from a sudden virus outbreak which has turned many people into violent zombie-like creatures who start attacking the rest of the population of Montevideo.
Virus 32 does a great job of highlighting the sense of dystopia and hopelessness that pervades the film. Impressive sweeping camera shots exploring the streets of the Uruguayan capital highlighting the smog and industry both on land and at sea demonstrating that this world is only barely remaining pre-apocalyptic. Indeed, the protagonist’s job, which initially insulates her from the fallout of the sickness, is at an abandoned sports centre which adds an extra level of futility to the whole affair. The film’s colour palette also increases the apocalyptic feel, with the sports centre’s anaemic lighting, grime and rust leading to a sense of unease and unheimlich.
When the outside world starts making itself known to Iris, she makes an uneasy (to say the least) alliance with Luis (Daniel Hendler), a middle-aged-man with survival skills and a heavily pregnant wife. And certainly, this is one of the zombie films where the human-on-human conflict is more compelling and convincing than most of the zombie threat. There is a lot of unease throughout the movie, but trying to figure out what Luis is up to is one of the most interesting narrative threads. That and, of course, Iris’s narrative arc in which she steps up and becomes the heroic mother that Tata requires. Some very traumatic and affecting storytelling is admirably channelled by Silva who is given some very heavy material to work with. Both Silva and the film’s claustrophobic soundtrack will have audiences biting their nails.
Admittedly, one could make the argument that the human element has always been the point of zombie movies. However, here I would argue there’s a sizeable gap, where the zombies could have been made more interesting. There seems to be a spectrum of self-awareness (and awareness of others) with some zombies demonstrating more than others, which it could have been interesting to spend more time on. So while maybe the movie hinted at some ideas I would have like to see teased out further, it’s maybe also good that it left aspects open to interpretation.
Iris and Tata initially remain in contact through the use of cameras: Iris is able to see where Tata is thanks to the centre’s CCTV until things start to go awry. And although this use of technology makes sense at times, at others it seems a little shoe-horned in. It feels a little too convenient that, by watching back videos, Iris realises that each zombie has exactly 32 seconds of placidity after each kill. It’s an interesting observation, sure, but it feels like a very quick assumption for her to latch on to. It’s also a decent gimmick that unsurprisingly does come into play within the narrative, but it seems like it should have deeper implications somehow. However, complaining about this makes me feel like a whiny film bro, so I’ll back away from that line of thinking.
Overall, Virus 32 might have benefited from exploring its ideas further, but overall it is a worthwhile rumination on motherhood and survival with a lot of suspense and surprises. And who knows? Maybe the zombie genre has been dead for long enough that it’s right about time for it to become… undead. Even if it’s not a terribly tacky joke feels like an appropriate place to end my review.
Virus 32 is currently streaming on Shudder.