Note: This film has a content warning for animal cruelty and flashing lights.
Part of the fun (and the horror) of watching zombie movies in a post-Romero world is figuring out what kind of zombies inhabit them. How fast do they move? What reasoning skills do they have, if any? How can you kill them? Virus :32 — a Uruguayan and Argentinian co-production from director Gustavo Hernández, who co-wrote with Juma Fodde — answers those questions with more than a few nods to 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. But the film’s unique twist on zombie lore and its stylish camerawork differentiate it enough to make it a strong addition to zombie cinema.
Virus :32 opens with a chilling scene of an old woman making a terrifying discovery in her living room. The camera never stops moving, following the woman through her second-story apartment, then moving down to the street to meet Javi (Franco Rilla) and his daughter Tata (Pilar Garcia), and then moving back up to the apartment next door, where we meet Tata’s mother Iris (Paula Silva). Next, a drone shot shows city streets full of screaming, running people and the sound of sirens filling the air. It’s a thrilling bit of cinematography from Fermin Torres that sets the stage for this nail-biting film where a city-wide catastrophe is already in motion, despite the lead characters’ ignorance of the danger that surrounds them.
This dramatic irony colors our reactions to the character work, adding even more tension to the dynamics of the estranged family. Javi and Iris are divorced, and Iris has been a less than dependable mother to Tata. She had previously agreed to watch Tata, but she forgot and agreed to a shift at her job as a security guard at an athletic club, so she must take Tata with her to the cavernous club full of dark hallways and vulnerable windows. It’s a terrific set-up for a zombie film. After all, many zombie movies are just siege films with extra biting, and the athletic club is the perfect location for a siege film: it initially seems like the safest place in the city, but as the night wears on, it becomes clear just how unsafe it really is.
Another clever touch is the security cameras in the athletic club. When Iris realizes that there is something very wrong with the people who break into the club, she uses the time code on the security video to determine that each zombie has a downtime of 32 seconds after each violent attack where they seem to enter a mini-hibernation. That knowledge, of course, comes in handy later in the film during a particularly tense hallway escape scene. Virus :32 features several impressive set pieces like this, where Iris and/or Tata are cornered or on the run from a zombie, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat. Though it’s derivative at times, borrowing music cues and camerawork from 28 Days Later and lifting a pivotal plot point from Dawn of the Dead, Virus :32 is never short on tension.
The cast does a fantastic job of maintaining that tension. Silva brings a heartbreaking sense of loss to Iris, who became estranged from her family after a tragedy, and her fraught relationship with Tata makes the viewer invested in the film’s emotional beats from the very beginning. Garcia brings both a toughness and an innocence to Tata that makes it easy for the viewer to root for her in tense moments. The zombie character design and movements are terrifying, particularly for people who favor the fast-moving rage zombies of modern films.
With effective scares, stylishly nervy camerawork, and a clever premise, Virus :32 is a worthy addition to zombie cinema. The modern zombie formula is tried and true at this point, and by tweaking it ever-so-slightly, Virus :32 manages to slice its own way through the crowd. The film may remind viewers quite a bit of other modern zombie movies, but it borrows from the best and does more than enough to stand on its own.