Friday, March 06, 2015

From the Archive: REC 3 (2012)

Until this third entry in the popular horror franchise, the REC movie series has been all about exploiting a cinema verite approach; about the expression of a horrific, claustrophobic scenario in ultra-realistic, “life-as-unfolding” terms.

But in [REC] 3: Genesis, the found-footage saga takes an unexpected detour into artifice, theatricality and romance. It’s an absolute (and deliberate) departure from franchise tradition to be certain, but one that suggests ingenuity, and one filled with humor…and even pathos.

To find a corollary in the horror genre, [REC] 3: Genesis is to [REC] or [REC] 2 as Evil Dead 2 (1987) is to the original The Evil Dead (1983): an amusing re-invention that maintains the gore-and-grue, bread-and-butter of the franchise, but veers headlong into terms funnier than its hard-core predecessor.

Since [REC] 2 wasn’t much more than an above-average retread of the brilliant [REC] in terms of content and style, perhaps it was indeed time to re-invent the wheel.  And so that’s precisely what this sequel does.  It continues the progression of the “outbreak” story established by the first [REC] film, but in a way unexpected, absurd, and even refreshing in its audacity.

But be warned: this sequel has earned many negative and dismissive reviews.  I suspect the negativity arises because “brand identification” has become so crucial in the last few years to both viewers and, alas, critics.  

To those inclined to think in such inartistic terms, a [REC] movie must hit certain notes, carry a certain tone and look, and develop in a certain way. What modern audiences appear to want out of a sequel is the exact same experience they already had the last time.

[REC] 3: Genesis knowingly and brazenly explodes all such expectations, and for that reason has proven divisive with audiences and reviewers.  The key to enjoying the fine qualities this film does offer -- humor, romance and suspense -- is to take it on its own terms.  

One must judge what it is, not what it isn’t.

“Okay, Cinema Verite…”

[REC] 3 begins as lovers Koldo (Diego Martin) and Clara (Leticia Dolera) prepare to take their wedding vows. 

A videographer, Atun, records the ceremony and conducts interviews with Koldo and Clara’s loved ones. But during the reception -- one of the guests, Koldo’s uncle -- begins showing signs of the zombie infection of the previous franchise entries. Specifically, the vector in common seems to be the infected dog, Max, who was taken to the veterinarian in [REC].

Before long, several guests at the reception are infected, and newlyweds Koldo and Clara are separated. They must fight their way back to one another through throngs of fast-moving, saliva-dripping zombies.

Through it all, Koldo and Clara -- each independently of one another -- determine that their spouse is alive, and refuse to give up hope.  Going back for Koldo against the odds, Clara cuts her wedding dress down to fighting-size, and makes use of a chain-saw to eradicate the pervasive rabid-zombie threat.  For his part, Koldo dons a suit of armor and, at one juncture, utilizes a sword (for cake-cutting...) to combat the drooling dead.

In the end, a tragedy ensues.  But through it all, Koldo and Clara refuse to be separated, or to abandon one another.  No matter what happens, their destinies shall be intertwined.

“Is this our family?” “Not anymore…”

Perhaps the boldest decision made by director Paco Plaza involves his choice to drop the found-footage format after approximately twenty-minutes or so of [REC] 3: Genesis.  

The wedding video is a great introduction for the film using that found-footage format, but this sequel finally realizes -- no doubt sensibly -- that someone trapped in a life-or-death situation isn’t constantly going to be glued to a camera eye-piece. There's a naturalistic reason here for dropping hte format.

At some point, recording the event becomes less important than actually surviving it.

The dropping of the found footage subjective viewpoint allows Plaza to meaningfully differentiate his second sequel both in terms of visuals and tone from the previous entries. 

For those open to a change, [REC] 3: Genesis is successful on its own terms. The film works ably as a tongue-in-cheek satire of family gatherings (like weddings), and even a bride’s sometimes zealous commitment to making sure she has her “special day” as she desires it. The drooling, anti-social zombies -- beginning with the smiling, zombie uncle -- fit beautifully into this tapestry as the troublesome, sometimes drunk relatives you often encounter at such parties. 

You just never know what disaster they are going to kick off.

If Dawn of the Dead (1978) concerns conspicuous consumerism (and ends in a slapstick pie fight between bikers and zombies), it’s entirely appropriate for the REC series to spend some time – during the second sequel -- offering a bit of social satire.

This film also functions, uniquely, as a send-up of the REC franchise. Early in the proceedings, the camera man repeats dialogue verbatim from [REC] and its uninspired American remake, Quarantine (2008):

People have a right to know what’s going on.  I’m filming everything.” 

But in about twenty minutes, nobody’s filming anything anymore.  

So much for social responsibility!

The found-footage angle gets dropped like a hot potato, and the film lunges full-bore into soap opera territory instead, as Koldo and Clara face certain death in order to reconnect, and to meaningfully start their lives together.   

The considerable tension in the film arises from the fact of the couple’s separation, but the humor results from the unexpected ways they proclaim their undying love. They do it over the church’s P.A. system, and again, finally, when there seems to be no hope for survival.

Our blood-soaked bride, Clara, becomes, in many ways, an Ash-type, larger-than-life figure here, and Leticia Dolera is stunningly beautiful to watch in action.   By film’s end, she is all-business, ordering Koldo to cut off an infected arm, and powering through the pain.  You almost can’t help but think of Bruce Campbell and Evil Dead 2.  But this sequel isn’t a retread of the Sam Raimi aesthetic either, and reaches unexpectedly for pathos in its final, bloody moments.

[REC] was all about pandemonium, about rats trapped in a maze with no way to escape.  [REC] 3 shatters expectations by playing not with the found footage format, but with the audience’s emotional state-of-mind instead  It’s an even trade, in my opinion, especially for a one-off effort.

For eighty minutes, [REC] 3: Genesis surprises and entertains, with a few jolt scares thrown in for good measure.  The characters of Koldo and Clara -- even when we are laughing at them – are the most human individuals featured in the entire franchise. What happens to them matters. And how they face what happens to them states something meaningful about the human spirit.

But otherwise, I  just can’t imagine how going back into that same, dark, contaminated apartment building a third time would have been a better, more creative, or artistic choice for [REC] 3. 

Therefore, I applaud Paco Plaza and the other filmmakers for playing out a fun variation on a theme, instead of merely grinding a familiar, well-worn theme to death.  

Other filmmakers -- and other horror movie franchises -- could stand to learn the same lesson.

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