Lionsgate // 2011 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 1st, 2011
The Threat is Real
Bio-weapons are one of the great scary future possibilities staring us in the face. So far the threats (like anthrax) have been bacteriological, but it's not hard to imagine someone engineering a virus to cause havoc in a terrorist-style situation. However, engineering such a virus would prove difficult -- the virus would have to be lethal enough to be scary, but lay dormant long enough to be spread effectively. This is the problem that Virus X starts with. A tale of genetic engineering gone wrong, the film tries to cash in on recent flu fears (like avian and swine flu) without too much success. Although it has some good gore, Virus X can't overcome a weak script and familiar plot to offer something really worthwhile to horror fans.
Malcolm (Jai Day) is a handsome and idealistic young doctor who joins a firm whose aim is to create an antidote to the avian strain of influenza. Littles does Malcolm know that his boss, Dr. Gravamen (Joe Zasco, Demonium) is working for Danita Herrington (Sybil Danning, Halloween) who doesn't want a cure but a better virus to cause panic. When the testing procedures go wrong, an infected patient is let loose among the researchers who are then trapped into the secure facility. From there it's all about survival and uncovering how and why the team is trapped.
I had high hopes for Virus X. The disc opens with not one, not two, but three red-band trailers for other releases. I figured a film that gets three gore-soaked trailers would almost certainly have to deliver the goods, at least in terms of its effects. I was, not surprisingly, disappointed. The first issue is the plot. The first third does a decent job setting up the whole "manufacturing a virus" plot. It could have been sped up a little bit, but it's not horrible. Then, though, the team gets trapped in with a person infected with the most horrible strain of bird flu imaginable. Since they come into contact with the patient, and the virus is so darnn potent, we should expect that everyone is going to be dead by the end of the film. Other films might have gone with a Snake Plissken countdown, giving the team a reason for vengeance and the will to carry it out in the few days they have left. Instead, Virus X goes a more Saw-oriented route, having the characters slowly expire while trapped in the complex, meandering their way towards an explanation and/or revenge.
If the characters were interesting, this might have worked, but sadly, they're not. A bunch of hastily sketched stereotypes (or hero is a do-gooder who did volunteer-style work in a foreign country despite an impeccable academic pedigree) played with scenery chewing aplomb by a group of actors there for the paycheck.
That all sounds a bit harsh, and the truth is that Virus X doesn't even succeed at being bad. Sure it's not going to win any awards, but it's pulled off with enough competence and attention to make it seem more like a missed opportunity than an outright failure. I'm sure it doesn't help that the film is coming out on DVD a full six months after the swine flu pandemic was declared officially over (which is probably why the film's apparently original title H1N1: Virus X has been shortened for DVD release). The film also does a decent job living up to the red-band trailers at the disc's opening. There's plenty of stuff to make the lighthearted squirm, and I can imagine those with phobias about germs going crazy over this flick. The gore is average in the grand scheme of things, but there's enough of it often enough to keep the film moving along.
The DVD of Virus X sports an okay transfer. A lot of the film is shot in dimly lit lab spaces, and there wasn't an excess of noise or artifacts to be found. It's not razor sharp or anything, but the whole thing is pretty watchable. The same goes for the 5.1 audio. Not a lot of directional effects, but the dialogue is clean and clear. Aside from those previously mentioned trailers this disc is barebones. Guess we'll never know why the name of the film was changed, or how the pandemic affected the creation of the film. Oh well.
Virus X tries really hard to be a suspenseful, slightly gory, take on the threat of viral infection. Despite the valiant attempt, the film is saddled with a ho-hum script that takes too long to build to a lackluster conclusion. The presentation on this disc is fine, but the lack of extras means this one's probably worth a rental at best, and then only for genre stalwarts.
Break out the anti-virals: Virus X is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R