Changing what makes a hit franchise work can be a perilous business, just ask the filmmakers behind Halloween III. Screw with convention all you want, but be prepared to reap the whirlwind if you stray too far from the expected path.
Watching the third installment of the [REC] series reminds me oddly of South Park, or more precisely the opening episode of the second season where, instead of us getting a resolution to the cliffhanger of Eric Cartman’s parentage, Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave us an entirely unrelated Terrence and Phillip episode titled: Not Without My Anus. Typically subversive for a couple of guys known for fucking with their audience, it was a fun gimmick but not only was it not what the fans wanted, it wasn’t a particularly funny episode, either. My point? If you’re going to screw with the established order, you’d better be fucking great. This brings us back to [REC]³, a zombie movie with the most jarring tonal shift since C.H.U.D. II: Bud The C.H.U.D..
Loved up couple Clera and Klodo are simply giddy about finally tying the knot and as they bustle round and get ready, various family members film them as they prepare for their big day. The event goes without a hitch and the two newlyweds and their respective families and friends head back to a fancy country house to celebrate at the reception where the usual partying, hooking up and embarrassing dad dancing ensues – but Uncle Pepe, thanks to an infected dog bite, is going to ruin proceedings faster than a shitty best man speech as his wound (somehow related to events from the other movies – maybe one of the families in the apartment had a dog that caught the demon virus a day before the quarantine) slowly turns him into a savage zombie who promptly tears out the throat of the nearest person to him. Chaos ensues that far more harrowing than watching a family member try to dance to Umbrella by Rihanna as the virus spreads through the guests unchecked turning a lovely day into a freaking blood bath.
Separated by the hordes of shrieking flesheaters that used to be their family, both Clera and Klodo fight to be reunited, something made all the more desperate by the fact that they’ve only recently found out about Clera’s pregnancy. As the two lovebirds take very different paths towards finding each other – Klodo straps on antique medieval armour while Clera takes the more modern route of revving up a bloody great chainsaw – a priest on site seems to know more than he’s letting on. Why does reciting bible passages freeze these zombies in their tracks? Why do all their reflections show up as an grotesquely emaciated female creature and what does this carnage have to do with news reports of a quarantined building across town? One thing’s for sure, the only thing that’s not getting sliced during this wedding seems to be the cake.
Back when [REC] first surfaced it was somewhat of an underground sensation, taking both the zombie and found footage genres and super charging them into something genuinely scary. The sequel built and expanded on the mythology by delving more into demonic possession aspect while going full Aliens on the concept and ended with nail biting cliffhanger that had fans scrabbling to find out what happens next.
What did happen next is that the directing team of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza split to helm the next two installments separately with [REC]³ being put in the hands of the latter. Fans waited eagerly to see what became of possessed TV reporter Ángela Vidal only to be instantly dismayed at the news that not only would the movie focus on a completely different group of characters in a entirely new location but it wouldn’t even be found footage either.
However, that was nearly ten years ago: so has time been kinder to a movie that has more in common with Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead-Alive) than it’s own predecessors? Well, yeah. Actually it has a little. If [REC]³ had been released under another title or maybe even it had been released after the concluding chapter ([REC]: Apocalypse) as a spin-off then maybe public reaction would have been kinder, but as it stands, Genesis stands as a perfectly adequate zombie thriller with some cool gore and great moments.
It’s still fairly awkward though. The entire cast is introduced in an overlong prologue that takes the form of a twenty minute wedding video and while that kind of fast-tracking sort of characterization works if the whole film is found footage, when we make the switch to more traditional storytelling most of our survivors are too thinly sketched to care about. The movie tries to forge tenuous links to the first two movies via the intriguing notion of having all the zombies have the reflection of the demonically possessed Niña Mederiros who started this whole mess and having the ghouls react negatively to prayer and holy water also fits – but only goes to highlight the cavernous rift between the pitch black intensity of the first two movies and this, noticably lighter gorefest.
Such gags as the hero literally being a knight in armour as he creeps around in a metal breastplate and the children’s entertainer constantly explaining that for trademark reasons his SpongeBob Squarepants costume has to be referred to a John Sponge are amusing enough, but feel out of place in the bigger picture and once again suggests that Genesis would have been better served as an unrelated adventure.
Still, when it has to deliver the nasty stuff, [REC]³ has what it takes; the gore is copious (the destruction of a Zombie’s face with a whirring kitchen tool is a cracker) the body count is huge, the ending is stupendously nihilistic and the image of lead actress Leticia Dolera – slight frame clad in a tattered wedding dress drenched in blood, her huge eyes racooned by smudged eyeliner and clutching a chainsaw – is an absolute corker.
However, at a mere 80 minutes long (with 5 minutes of credits at the end), while [REC]³ certainly doesn’t out stay it’s welcome, it’s barely a complimentary canape after the huge slice of wedding cake of the first two movies…
Nowhere near as awful as some insist – but I’m still wondering what possessed the filmmakers to make such a leap.