Gustavo Hernández of The Silent House fame presents his rendition of 28 Days Later with Virus: 32. The Shudder Original relies on tighter budgets and less expansive worldbuilding than its influences, but doesn’t hesitate to indulge in viral rage. Hernández and co-writer Juma Fodde pull from famous infectious disease thrillers—I’d argue they’re zombie flicks, but that’s a soapbox for another day—to concoct their newest strain of “crazed killer” outbreak. Virus: 32 references the signature trademark of infected predators needing a 32-second break to recharge after attacks, which adds something different to the otherwise familiar fast-zombie riffage. That tweak, plus satisfying intensity, goes a long way.
The streets of Montevideo become a scene of ravenous chaos due to the spread of an unknown disease that transforms people into bloodthirsty hunters—but Iris (Paula Silva) isn’t aware. She’s day-buzzed on rum and late for work at a sports club where she’s a security guard. Today, she’s got company after forgetting it’s her turn to watch her daughter Tata (Pilar Garcia). Iris asks Tata to play alone while she patrols and watches over surveillance cameras, assuming another quiet day until invaders break down the facility’s doors. Iris, unaware of the pandemic apocalypse outside, must locate her shaken daughter before the worst happens as crazed lunatics sprint through the corridors.
There’s something survival horror game-esque about Virus: 32; about how Iris must traverse an abandoned complex now filled with rampaging threats hiding around dim, dank hallway bends. Iris conveys instructions over telephones and walkie-talkies while playing eye-in-the-sky, scampering to help her kin—with the bonus of deranged survivors straight out of mall-zombie game Dead Rising. There are maniac humans amidst undead hordes in Capcom’s open-world environment who tend to be just as dangerous—or at least doomsday-unhinged, which Virus: 32 gives us a smaller glimpse into given the film’s contained scope. Iris is our non-playable protagonist caught on side-quests while her main mission timer ticks away, and it’s an exciting connection that not all films indulge. It’s not a videogame movie by adaptation standards, but Hernández still benefits from structural relations.
As for the film’s other influences, the era of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is alive and well. Zombie purists will classify Virus: 32 as a sickness subgenre variant, yet however you define Hernández’s latest, it’s a stellar comparison piece before The Sadness drops onto Shudder later this year. That said, Virus: 32 is more traditional compared to the hardcore hedonism of The Sadness—Hernández’s homages recall everything from Mekhi Phifer’s zombie baby from Dawn of the Dead to multiple films (recently Army of the Dead) and television shows (The Walking Dead) where heroes stealthily slink through braindead foes momentarily logged off from aggression mode. Iris’ trials are daringly deadly: Turned civilians gnash their bloody chompers with frightening ferocity and civilization’s breakdown is a reddened shade of violent fury. Hernández keeps the pedal pressed as Iris faces grave stakes.
The familial bond that drives Iris’ mama-bear instincts gives viewers something more to invest in throughout Virus: 32. Silva’s performance becomes more complicated as her character embraces maternal passions outside of general horror escapee shivers. The way Iris sacrifices for Tata, charging forward at barbaric screechers who want only to massacre, becomes an evolution that offers more than typical genre thrills. Directors, screenwriters and actors don’t always succeed in elevating moods through bloodline bonds that might otherwise complicate or distract characters, but here it’s an accentuation—never a diversion. Our hearts beat faster when Iris notices Tata in peril; we want to see Iris and Tata live together happily ever after.
Virus: 32 isn’t as much a breath of fresh air as an enraged viral nightmare that squeezes a few original bursts of corpser creativity between tried-and-true subgenre comfort. Canisters billow yellowish smoke that covers a drained community pool as Iris hides within the colored clouds; a husband must rationalize the future for his pregnant zombie wife; one gut-punch of a surprise uses tension like a tightening noose—these are the moments where Virus: 32 excites. Gustavo Hernández includes plenty of “seen it before” sequences in ways that are still enjoyable, and not out of plagiarism or rotten morals. Virus: 32 is another entry into an overdone niche that gets the job done through competent storytelling with an emphasis on trauma, monster terrors and hasty pacing that sprints ahead with berserker fierceness. It’s too familiar to be outstanding, but fulfilling enough as a reliable treat.
Director: Gustavo Hernández
Writer: Gustavo Hernández, Juma Fodde
Starring: Rasjid César, Sofía González, Daniel Hendler, Paula Silva
Release Date: April 21, 2022 (Shudder)
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.