By this point, the American zombie film is a tired, staggering corpse. “The Walking Dead” is now in its final season after more than a decade. Zack Snyder’s much-hyped Army of the Dead was underwhelming while at the same seemingly way too long and bloated. The most inventive and interesting recent takes on the lumbering subgenre have come from overseas. The South Korean Train to Busan is one of the best zombie films so far in the 21st Century, for example.
The Shudder original Virus:32 continues the tradition of fresh and entertaining international zombie movies. The Uruguayan film, directed by Gustavo Hernández, has a small cast but plenty of tense moments that make for an exhilarating thrill ride. While it doesn’t totally reinvent the genre (who can by this point?), it does add a few new tricks. For one, it focuses on a single mother and her daughter. It also makes great use of its location, and it has plenty of superb camera work.
Virus:32 is Take Your Daughter to Work Day Gone Horribly Wrong
The film stars Paula Silva as Iris, an overworked mom who’s forced to take her daughter, Tata (Pilar Garcia), to work because she has no one else in her life to watch her. Iris works as the night guard at an abandoned sports club. Unfortunately for Iris and Tata, the two are left alone in the sports complex when it’s attacked by relentless and ferocious zombies. These aren’t George A. Romero’s type of zombies. They’re not slow-walking ghouls. Instead, they’re lean and mean. Think 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead (2004).
Not long into the film, Tata and Iris are separated prior to the attack. During the narrative’s first half, Iris engages in a desperate race to find and save her daughter before it’s too late. This makes for plenty of nerve-jangling scenes. Iris often observes her daughter on camera, hiding in a locker or behind a door, while zombies creep down the hallway, inching closer and closer.
Though the social commentary is never heavy-handed, it is significant that the movie focuses on a single mother and her daughter. It’s clear immediately that the resources Iris needs to take care of her child aren’t easily available, hence why she must work the job as a guard and take her daughter with her. There is a man in her life, Javi (Franco Rilla). But, well, he doesn’t act like the most responsible or reliable type of guy.
Though this is an Uruguayan film, Iris’ plight to provide for and keep her daughter safe at all costs should resonate with Americans. After all, we still don’t have a national paid family leave policy. Meanwhile, the child tax credits, which helped so many parents during the pandemic, expired months ago. Silva also gives one heck of a performance playing a character who is strong and capable, but also fearful that something will happen to her daughter in a cruel, cruel world.
Giving Birth in a Zombie Apocalypse
The film contains only two other main characters, besides Tata and Iris. Daniel Hendler plays Luis, a hubby who keeps his zombified wife alive because she’s pregnant. Isn’t that sweet? He offers assistance to Iris and promises to get her and Tata to safety. However, in return, he asks Iris to help deliver the baby.
This is generally a cool premise. I’m not sure that we’ve seen many zombie films where someone is pregnant and infected and the significant other wants to keep her alive so she can have the baby. It’s also unclear, at least initially, whether the baby will be infected. Iris thinks it will be, but for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t spill what happens when the wife does give birth. There’s also something sympathetic about the character, too, considering Luis keeps her strapped to a wheelchair and feeds her pigeons and other animals, just so she’ll live to have the child. Does she even want to have the kid? Well, zombies get no choice in the matter, apparently. It’s Luis’ way or the highway, and this applies to Iris as well. Either she helps him deliver the potential zombie baby, or she’ll get the boot.
Does Virus:32 Do Anything Different with the Subgenre?
Whenever I watch a zombie movie, I’m always looking to see if it does anything different. By this point, we’ve seen so many movies about hungry corpses that it’s hard to do anything innovative. There’s only one Night of the Living Dead or Train to Busan a generation. That said, Virus:32 does have a few inventive tricks up its sleeve.
The film’s zombies are unique because they freeze for 32 seconds, giving survivors a little bit of time to find safety. It’s unclear if they do this right before they’re about to feed or after they exert too much energy. Regardless, it’s a cool premise that makes for some intense sequences. There’s one scene that’s just the right kind of nail-biting suspense you want in a zombie movie. Tata and Iris have 32 seconds to make it through a tight hallway filled with a horde. There are a few other moments where this concept is utilized well. Further, those infected can be identified by small red marks on their hands. I don’t think we’ve seen this before, either.
Other than that, though, Virus:32 doesn’t offer anything all that new in terms of zombies. We’ve already seen the undead run before, though these zombies are more aware than most. They open cabinets and lockers. One tries to abort the baby with a knife, and another knows how to follow the TV monitors, thus tracking Tata and her mom. These zombies are no dummies.
Additionally, Hernández’s eye should be applauded here. Some of the camera work, especially within the first 10 minutes, is stellar, from the tight shots in corridors to the ariel shots showing the impact of the horde. From start to finish, the film is a visual feast. He makes great use of both streetscapes and the single location of the sports complex. This film is also effective because other than the last act or so, it doesn’t contain hordes of zombies. Often, Iris, Luis, and Tata are confronted with one or two zombies that are equally as threatening as a mass of the walking dead. This seems more realistic.
Are We Ready for More Zombies Post-COVID?
When I first saw the trailer for Virus:32, I asked myself, do we really need another zombie movie right now? We’re still not fully over COVID, and while the vaccination rates are promising, in the US, at least, the threat of another wave is ever-present.
But I was surprised by just how entertaining the film is. As I mentioned, it doesn’t reinvent the zombie movie. I’m not sure anyone can at this point. However, a story about a mother and daughter’s struggle for survival in a world that’s suddenly gone topsy turvy feels relevant right now. Beyond that, the movie is just a heck of a good time. It’s visually striking and intense. Maybe we can all use a little zombie mayhem right now to escape the horrors of the real world.
Virus:32 drops on Shudder on April 21. For more on the streaming service’s latest content, check out my weekly Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.