Last weekend saw the VOD debut of Magnet Releasing’s horror anthology V/H/S: Viral, the third film in the hit-and-mostly-miss V/H/S trilogy. Unlike its predecessors, this film left the titular form of visual media behind, but it similarly featured one standout short that totally blew the other ones out of the water. Lo and behold, it was the sci-fi-tinged “Parallel Monsters” that rose to the top here, and it’s another sign that this growing anthology trend needs to head back to the science fiction genre where its glory years were spent with Rod Serling.
“Parallel Monsters,” which I sincerely found to be the best short in any of the V/H/S movies, centers on Alfonso (Gustavo Salmeron), a married man who has just opened a portal to a parallel dimension and travelled through. At first, it appears that everything is exactly the same in the other world, but it’s when the two Alfonsos decide to spend time in one another’s reality that things get way out of hand.
It’s a perfectly unsettling story and comes from writer/director Nacho Vigalondo. There’s no surprise there, since Vigalondo gave the world the genius 2007 time travel thriller Timecrimes and 2011’s enjoyable apocalyptic alien invasion comedy Extraterrestrial. His latest feature, the uniquely presented Open Windows, took him away from sci-fi, but this puts the reins right back in his hands. (Vigalondo also has a nifty short in that other horror anthology The ABCs of Death, which falls slightly within genre boundaries.)
“Parallel Monsters” is an unpredictable and imaginative story, and an instant reminder of how much better suited sci-fi is to storytelling than horror. In comparison, the other shorts in V/H/S: Viral involve a bunch of skateboarders beating up a never-ending line of cult zombie things, an illusionist who uses real magic to do whatever he wants, and some random stuff involving a couple and a cab ride. There’s a chance that the excised segment “Gorgeous Vortex” could have been more intriguing than Vigalondo’s offering, but I doubt it.
Horrors and dark dramas have completely taken over the anthology approach in recent years. On film, it’s the previously mentioned series, as well some other low-budget schlock. (Trick ‘r Treat is excellent though.) And on TV, it’s critically beloved shows like American Horror Story, True Detective, and Fargo ushering in a new wave of limited tales to tell. I don’t understand why we haven’t already seen a corresponding boom in sci-fi anthologies in recent series pickups and things. Yes, Metal Hurlant Chronicles is getting a redo, but many of the major networks are already moving forward with horror-based stuff. As a horror fan, I’m overjoyed, but the sci-fi lover in me is pissy all the same. There’s definitely room for both.
At this point, the best thing genre fans can hope for is more from Charlie Brooker’s U.K. series Black Mirror, a show so good that it’s likely the best we’d get anyway. But it’s beyond me how impressively futuristic the world is when compared to the days when Tales of Tomorrow, The Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits were all in their heyday, and yet barely any networks or studios are willing to try to recreate that success with today’s audiences. Just look at all the inspiration that written science fiction could have on both anthology TV series and features. But it’s remakes of Uncle Buck and Problem Child that are getting developed, along with the comedic anthology series based on Bachelor Party. Where is the humanity?
Find V/H/S: Viral on VOD now, and catch it in select theaters starting November 21. And then help me start a petition to get Nacho Vigalondo behind a sci-fi series for Netflix.