Malcolm Burr is an idealistic doctor. He wants to save the world from that deadly influenza killer, H1N1. So it's ironic that he goes to work for a company that's trying to create a super-flu and using human guinea pigs to do it.
That's the bare bones story of Virus X, and unfortunately it only goes downhill from there. Malcolm (Jai Day) really wants to help people, and he thinks that he is doing just that when he signs up with Dr. Gravamen (Joseph Zaso) and starts researching lethal strains of the H1N1 virus. But Dr. Gravamen is up to no good. At the behest of his major financer, Mrs. Herring (Sybil Danning), he is working his darnedest to come up with the most lethal virus possible, with the express purpose of unleashing it on the world. Why exactly Mrs. Herring wants to do this isn't revealed until near the end of the film, but by that time the viewer couldn't care less.
Things begin to unravel when Malcolm comes across a spectacularly lethal strain of the virus, which kills within three days, designated virus X. Gravamen has his weird Italian enforcer Jerron (Domiziano Arcangeli, also the film's producer) pick up a random prostitute for a virus test run. The prostitute is feistier than anyone realizes, and soon after being injected makes a break for it and crawls through a conveniently man sized air duct to the research lab where Malcolm and his pals work. (The human testing and murder section of the lab is considerately kept separate from the normal work areas.) Jerron follows the prostitute into the break room and shoots her in the head, splattering everyone present with her infected blood. Gravamen quickly locks down the lab and watches the progress of his new test subjects on closed circuit television.
Along with Malcolm in the break room, which is perhaps the dankest, darkest, most unappealing break room ever to exist in the history of research laboratories, are his co-workers Kenny (Bo Burroughs), Cori (Kyra Groves), Abby (Sasha Formosa) and Francis (Dylan Vox). Never the best of friends, their relationships begin to seriously degrade as they come down with flu symptoms and start to realize that they will all probably die. Most of the group had no idea of Gravamen and Herring's true intentions. The one that does is naturally upset about being stuck in with the suckers, and furious when Jerron and Gravamen refuse to let him out. To say much more would reveal potential plot points, so I will refrain from going farther.
Virus X does have a few, fleeting points of quality. The first are the blood and makeup effects. They do a very nice job in making up the actors to appear to be ill with a vicious influenza, and the effect is quite believable as the illness progresses. There are also a couple of creditable performances. Jai Day and Sasha Formosa are pretty good, and most of the rest are at least decent, including Sybil Danning. The sound design is also quite effective, and the 5.1 channel sound helps to envelop the viewer into the world of the film.
These few areas of competence are more than overshadowed, however, by the large volume of elements that are annoying, dull or downright silly. According to the included interviews, the film was shot in eleven days, with mostly handheld photography. The shakiness of the camera is instantly aggravating, and this effect only decreases slightly during the duration of the film. Even more annoying than the jittery image is director Ryan Stevens Harris's extreme case of infatuation with what one might call the Tony Scott look. Deep shadows and buckets of blue light are splashed everywhere, like the whole film is a love scene from The Hunger. The break room, which remember is supposed to be located in a medical research facility, is lit through a wall mounted exhaust fan, causing the shadows to flick flick flick across everyone's face as they sit and eat their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. The entire lab is decorated in dark tones with inadequate illumination. It looks more like a dungeon than a high tech research complex. They visual style is entirely unbelievable for where the film is supposed to be set, and immediately signals to the viewer that this is make believe.
Two other such signals, even less subtle, are the performances of Dylan Vox and Domiziano Arcangeli. Admittedly, Vox's turn is only relatively over the top, two or three smidges too melodramatic to work. With some other changes in the film, he might have even fit in. But Arcangeli is just goofy. His artificially straight and blonde hair hangs limply down the sides of his face as he tries for a menacing blank stare that is entirely undercut by his too tight black tee shirt and leather pants. Forget the huge pistol, this guy is simply not intimidating. He's a cartoon, who reverently lifts a vial of the super-virus out of its fog shrouded cradle one minute, and spouts silly pseudo-philosophy the next, right before shooting down someone in cold blood. Of all the flaws of Virus X, the one that is irrecoverable is Arcangeli's performance. The at times stilted dialogue, and the shaky cam and the so-so performances could all be improved or forgiven, but he makes the film impossible to take seriously. There are some scattered worthwhile bits to be found here and there, but this one is a rental only.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. Aside from the pervasive shaky cam, and the numerous focus shifts (which appear to be intentional for artistic effect) and the general shadowed nature of the film, the image looks pretty good. There might be some occasional graininess, but it appears that the director achieved the look he intended.
The audio is in Dolby digital 5.1 channel, and also works pretty well. The LFE channel is solid, powerful and clean, and there's a nice sound mix. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and English and Spanish subtitles are included for those who might need them. No alternate audio is available.
There are a couple of extras included. They are:
Interview with Director Ryan Stevens Harris and Actor Domiziano Arcangeli
Shot as part of an Eye on Entertainment segment on the film's premier, Harris and Arcangeli speak separately about their experience making the film, and other projects they have on the horizon. The two met while working on a much superior film Finale, and Arcangeli asked Harris if he wanted to direct. This is fairly interesting.
Interview with Actor Dylan Vox and Actress Sybil Danning
Another pair of interviews, also for Eye on Entertainment and also at the premier. Vox and Danning apparently became friends while filming a television series together, and Vox brought her on board with Virus X. We get a bit of biography from both, and some insight into shooting the film. Also fairly interesting.
Virus X Trailer
This is actually a pretty effective trailer.
Also from Lionsgate
The disc also includes trailers for Stag Night, Psych: 9, Neighbor, and commercials for Fearnet and Break.com.
Virus X has a fairly decent premise. It's simple, and it's been done before, but it's the kind of structure that great B-movies are made from. Five people trapped together with a deadly disease. There's horror film gold to be made out of that raw material. But the producers here let themselves get out of control. The melodramatic visual style and a couple of over the top performances damn the whole venture to failure, and overshadow the other bits that work well enough. It could have been great, but isn't.