Movie Review: "Viral Beauty" (2018)
I’ve just seen a new horror film that will never be categorized as a horror film, but it damn well should be. That’s not me taking a shot. That’s not damning praise. That’s not even a backhanded compliment. Horror, after all, is different things to different people, but it should always speak a truth that sends a chill down your spine.
Viral Beauty damn sure sent a chill down mine.
Marsha Day (Casey Killoran in her first feature) bares herself on the internet in the form of a dating video (as in “here’s what I’m looking for…”) that goes viral and makes her a celebrity in a fashion she could never have expected…but also in the exact fashion that she was hoping for. As she shells products for endorsement money, obsesses over her cat, and searches for love we get a glimpse at who she really is while she loses herself in the eternally wicked middle school playground that is the internet. She finds love in the form of ideal lover Will Durham (Mark Junek), and even that turns out to be both more and less than what she bargained for.
There’s a dividing line in the human race, and Viral Beauty highlights it with hideous clarity. As a 40 year-old man, I come from a time when the internet wasn’t a thing and how we live today sounded a bit like dystopian nightmare fuel. However, I have embraced the digital age to some degree; we all have. I use Facebook and Twitter to connect with friends both real and social. I promote my work via the internet, and I run my own site (on which you are reading this). It’s utterly pervasive and fascinatingly ubiquitous. That’s not to say it’s all bad by any stretch of the imagination. All of this connection has created a new language and fostered insane levels of creativity. Hell, I love a good meme or viral oddity as much as the next person.
It’s also created a new type of celebrity that comes with the same pitfalls and dark corners. Marsha finds herself changed by the ridiculous level of “popularity” that falls in her lap. As you watch, you find yourself thinking she must know it’s going to be fleeting at best. And she does! She simply doesn’t give a flying fuck. The quandary on display is whether or not you would care in her position, whether or not you would go to the lengths that she goes to in order to keep up that subscriber count. Everyone’s answer will be different, but it’s a horrifying question that places Viral Beauty firmly in the camp of horror (albeit bloodless horror).
The film is full of people that research tells me are internet stars, although Perez Hilton is the only one I am familiar with. I use the internet and occasionally jump down the rabbit hole, but I’m just not that into people who are famous for no good reason. I’m too busy trying to build my own brand (see what I did there?)
Casey Killoran is a revelation here in the lead role. She takes turns being nuanced and over the top, turning on a dime and putting everything into it. She gained 30 pounds for the role and then played the role in fearlessly non-airbrushed fashion. It’s a statement that she’s the real deal, and she fairly sizzles with charm (in spite of the occasional necessary obnoxiousness of the character). She squeals at one point, “I have so many offers, I don’t know what to do!” Alternately, Perez Hilton (no small example of that aforementioned internet fame) proclaims, “Being famous is fun, but it’s a lot of hard work! And Marsha is like a hooker in heat!”
That sums up what life is getting to be like for practically everyone nowadays, and the writing is clever enough to exploit that with razor sharpness. Viral Beauty is a prime example of the new indie in both style and substance, which it manages to balance effectively. It’s formulaically akin to a rockstar biopic in structure. While it’s not perfect, it’s one hell of a debut for director David Tyson Lam and writer Elizabeth Lam.
Particular fun comes from the response videos throughout the film. They range from the classic fanboy/girl to the stalker to the “just kill yourself” pleas. It’s the world we live in, folks- the world of cyber bullying, Kardashian worship, and the slow death of common sense and self respect. It is, as I said, horrifying…and Viral Beauty is a horror film that the internet will lead you to believe is a comedy.
It’s that, too, and a damn good one. Nervous laughter is still laughter, right?
4.0 out of 5.0 stars