Clever, compelling, and creepy, the Argentinian horror “Virtual Reality” is a thrilling ride that keeps you guessing and glued to the screen.
Admittedly, this movie was a shot in the dark for me.
It had been a couple of months since my last review, and I was looking for something unique and challenging. For me, the most difficult films to review are from other countries. Besides the language barrier, there are cultural and stylistic differences that can easily take me out of the experience and get me focusing on all the wrong things.
Luckily for me, I landed on Kino Lorber’s Virtual Reality (Realidad Virtual).
This Argentinean horror film begins on the movie set of a Celtic-themed horror story (reminds me of the Scotch-Korean commercial – “It doesn’t make a lick of sense!”). It features a strong cast, excellent cinematography, and a gripping score.
The opening credits are slick and well-wrought, setting a tone of dark intrigue.
From the gothic filming location to a messy office where the young director is shown having a private meeting with the producer in a tense scene reminiscent of The Deer Hunter to the bedside of the lead actress’s sick mother, Virtual Reality hits all the right beats during takeoff.
It engages the viewer with realistic human interaction in clever, dramatic, and horrific scenarios that draw you in.
We follow the director, a trust-fund baby (who is wearing a “Camp Crystal Flakes” parody tee shirt), to his wealthy parents’ home, where he sits at his laptop.
He then reveals the real antagonist of the film: A flash drive the producer gave him after winning at Russian roulette. The drive contains an AI that will supposedly guarantee his film is a success.
Cue the horror.
The main cast and crew then arrive at the home, a large house with beautiful architecture, to watch the first screening of the film they’ve been working on. But they soon discover that what they are watching, while featuring the same actors and location, is “better” than what they actually filmed. It has added scenes, different camera angles, and even new dialog, which heightens the terror in the film. The terror is felt by the viewers as well, as they struggle to understand how such a thing is possible.
The director just gives a sinister smile as the others look at each other in disbelief while they watch themselves doing things they never did.
I love this moment of almost cosmic horror in which you can feel the actors responding to the utterly terrifying idea that everything they thought they knew is wrong.
And if you think you know what direction things are going after that, you’re probably wrong.
I marveled at the creative commingling of technology with the supernatural that came out of nowhere and kicked the viewing experience up several notches. It brought me back to some of the creepy meta vibes from Lamberto Bava’s Demons movies.
The “film-within a film-within a film” is an interesting concept in a movie full of them; the fact that the core film is a slasher is just icing on the cake.
There’s fun with characters talking to their filmed selves via cell phone, as well as some welcome comic relief as one guy insults himself for being so stubborn.
Meanwhile, the filmmakers in the “real” world coach the actors in the movie on how to proceed based on the fact that it’s a horror film and there are “rules” (a la Scream but not quite so on the nose).
On a personal note, I love that the main comic relief is wearing a Jaws tee shirt. Clearly, the filmmakers love horror.
There are some unexpected twists and turns and a nice, tense score to accent all the action as the actors in the film struggle to survive while their “real world” counterparts watch helplessly, knowing that what happens to them in the movie happens to them in real life.
Layers are further peeled back, and the stakes are raised when the mysterious producer shows up to do a little monologuing about his evil plan to use the AI program to do a sequel “that will not feature any of the current cast”, followed by some unexpected police involvement and exquisite violence.
We have stabbings, axe wounds, strangulation, and compound fractures.
We have a stereotypical masked killer who nevertheless looks pretty cool and manages to project enough menace to keep the tension high. And, best of all, we have a well-placed gunshot that establishes the “rules” in reverse, plus an excellent surprise finale.
The dialog could probably be better, especially from the villains, but I can’t be too hard on it, considering the fact that some nuance is likely lost in translation.
The acting is so good from the entire cast that it makes up for some of the (perceived) goofiness of the script.
And another huge thing to consider is that there’s also a very Raimiesque horror-comedy vein flowing through the whole thing that justifies melodrama, over-the-top action, and gratuitous violence.
Is there a happy ending? Come on, it’s a horror movie.
Kudos to the director (Hernan Findling), writers (Findling and Lourdes Prado Mendez) as well as the entire cast and crew for creating something fairly unique, very meta, highly entertaining, and truly terrifying on a cosmic level. This is horror done right.
Make sure to watch all the way through for a creepy post-credits scene that doubles down on the meta.