Release Date: January 15th, 1999 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Bruno Actors: Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, Joanna Pacula, Marshall Bell, Sherman Augustus, Cliff Curtis, Julio Oscar Mechoso
t’s no classic, but “Virus” is a fun little science-fiction horror film with creative creature effects and several noteworthy ideas – despite all the monster movie clichés. Although the villain itself borrows elements from “Star Trek’s” Borg Collective and even “Saturn 3” or “Hardware’s” robo-antagonist, the visuals are surprisingly effective, lending a few designs to future fantasy pictures (such as “The Matrix”). Some of the acting is questionable, but Curtis is believable as the hero and Sutherland handles insanity well. And with a short running time, there isn’t a surplus of footage to bore the audience – provided they’re in the mood for bloody violence and sci-fi nonsense.
The barge Sea Star, commanded by ornery, stubborn, and borderline suicidal and homicidal Captain Robert Everton (Donald Sutherland), is caught in Typhoon Leiah on the Pacific Ocean. The valuable, uninsured load is lost in the storm, but the crew of mercenaries, led by skeptical engineer Steve Baker (William Baldwin, with a quizzical look permanently etched on his face), navigator Kelly “Kit” Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), J.W. Woods (Marshall Bell), and Hiko (Cliff Curtis), and followed by various other fodder, discovers a Russian missile and satellite tracking ship nearby. It’s fitted for scientific purposes and space communication – and floating dead in the water in the eye of the storm with the Star.
The wary group boards the seemingly derelict ship to look for survivors, though the mission presents an opportunity of a lifetime if they can salvage the craft for a 10% fee on its $300 million value. That’s assuming they don’t find anyone alive – although it just doesn’t add up that the entire ship would be abandoned. Their troubles really start when the power is restored and it appears that the vessel has a mind of its own – or, perhaps, there’s something else onboard with them.
The enormous, deserted liner is a great setting for a monster movie (like “The Abyss,” “Leviathan,” or “DeepStar Six”) – a claustrophobic, dark, and desolate interior, isolated by miles of water. Furthermore, it’s powered down, ransacked, covered with blood, and encased in tubes, piping, and wires of all kinds, strung about the ceilings, wrapped around the walls, and layering the floors. Naturally, the crew is inexperienced when it comes to working together in a jam, and they’re not afraid to wander off down dark corridors alone. The visuals are the strong point, with incredibly complex robotic monstrosities scurrying about in a machine shop of horrors.
Once again, the main character is a quick-thinking, selfless, strong-willed female leader, sculpted from “Aliens’” Ellen Ripley. “Virus” also contains loud noises, unexpected freaked-out birds, flickering lights, distrusting crewmembers, and a wide array of clashing personalities – some courageous, cowardly, backstabbing, curious, greedy, frightened, disbelieving, or maternal. And there are plenty of nasty surprises, especially for anyone unaware of the monsters behind it all.
The execution may not always work, but the level of seriousness doesn’t dwindle, giving the unbelievable elements considerably more validity. When the majority of the crew starts to lose their grip on sanity, things become edgier and slightly more realistic, despite the fact that the general premise is moderately futuristic science-fiction. A literal man vs. machine theme cinematically dominates this largely overlooked thriller, which possesses some commendably entertaining ideas, creative bloodshed, and sea-faring adventure (undeterred by Baldwin’s constant, wide-eyed intensity and a convenient conclusion) that should please both horror fans and sci-fi junkies alike.
– Mike Massie