Virus: Extreme Contamination (2016) is the 17th directorial effort of prolific Italian director Domiziano Cristopharo and the first to see him team up with contemporary Italian genre stalwart and writer Antonio Tentori, who is best known for his work on Lucio Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain (1990), Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D (2012), and of course genre hack Bruno Mattei’s latter day zombie efforts Zombies: The Beginning (2007) and Island of the Living Dead (2007).
It is these final two that the initial visual marketing of Virus: Extreme Contamination seemed to most resemble in terms of content and one of the initial sequences in the film actually supports this assumption as our protagonist Dr. Mattia Scala (Michael Segal) attends a rather dilapidated and sparsely furnished military lab where they are analysing meteorite samples that landed in Kosovo. Communications with the military base that supplied the samples had stopped suddenly and the initial Doctor who had been working on it was unable to provide any more assistance on account of turning into a bloody, decaying living corpse.
So what is our scientist to do? That’s right—head to Kosovo with a polyglot astronomer priest (Rimi Beqiri), although not before the Monsignor provides a small good luck charm to our Doctor. Together the duo must discover why contact with the military base was interrupted and what happened in those missing months. All we, as a viewer know is that our friend Cthulhu is somehow involved.
It is here that the film really starts to veer off from the development I ignorantly expected—a meteorite-caused zombie infection—and into something much more befitting of H.P. Lovecraft and his works, namely the key influence of The Colour Out of Space (1927). After the initial exposition the film becomes a bit of a slow burner, much in the same vein as fellow Italian film Custodes Bestiae (2004) and thankfully just as rewarding. The seeds for the Cthulhu influence of course were sown early on in the film with several references, while the marketing makes no bones about this area of influence, but often what filmmakers promise and deliver are not the same thing. However, here Cristopharo and Tentori deliver exactly as promised.
Shot with a combination of Albanian and Italian dialogue, this choice lends the film a certain genuineness and cohesion with the story and its surroundings. For the most part the acting is strong; Beqiri has impressed in all that I have seen him in and Segal obviously gets a lot of work for his solid, reliable performances, although his fight alongside Halil Budakov in the finale was disappointing. Both actors seemed to lack the intensity required in a scene where so much was at stake and ultimately it proved a little anti-climactic as did the closing of the film.
But Cristopharo and Tentori manage to successfully meld metaphors of the Kosovo war into the Lovecraft story, adding an extra layer of depth to the proceedings. They also still remained true to the Italian genre tradition of incorporating mystery into the heart of the film and their ability to ramp up the level of tension on demand, is impressive, further emphasised through the sparse and sombre use of audio. It says a lot about the quality of the writing and the crafting of tension that I was even gripped by a scene in which a few blokes were emptying out a well thought to be inhabited by an Old One. It was here that I knew that I had bought fully into the film.
Cristopharo has clearly made the most of his experience using well-constructed shots and strong editing to bely the film’s small budget, while Tentori has been realistic with his script as his ideas do not try and overstretch the budget or ignore the clear financial restraints that independent films often find themselves struggling against. Of course there are many reasons we like certain films and there was something vaguely familiar about Virus: Extreme Contamination; this is something that often builds positive associations with audiences when done correctly and explains why we have traditional rules in film and thankfully, despite this feeling, this film never feels derivative.
As a viewer we need to throwaway any notions that this is a zombie film; for all intents and purposes, it is an otherworldly Lovecraftian mystery and to see it as anything else is to do the film a disservice and potentially mislead the audience. Admittedly Virus: Extreme Contamination can almost be seen as a combination of the Lucio Fulci “Gates of Hell” trilogy and hip contemporary American zombie movies, but at its heart it is a tale of Lovecraftian fiction set amongst a very real backdrop. It quickly became an absorbing watch as it combines mystery, suspense and a sense of dread with a downbeat tone.
My only worry is that if the marketing is not right it may struggle to reach its audience, but I would recommend if you get the opportunity to watch Virus: Extreme Contamination either on its current US festival circuit tour or via home entertainment that you take the opportunity.