Latest ‘[REC]’ instalment offers schlock over terror
The Spanish zombie franchise takes its horror to a wedding party, with entertaining results. But if it’s sleepless nights you want, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
By James Blick
REC3 Genesis, the latest movie in Spain’s celebrated zombie franchise, invites viewers to the swank marriage of cooing lovebirds Koldo and Clara. And the nuptial backdrop is a canny move. Director Paco Plaza has rightly realised that weddings – stuffed with religious symbolism, overrun with staggering inebriates and blinded by gaudy dance-floor lights – are a little like a horror movie anyway. Once the guests start eating each other, what’s the difference?
The first two films in the series, shot à la The Blair Witch Project with first-person perspective and handheld cameras, played out in a cursed, zombie-infested Barcelona apartment block. The second instalment took up where the first left off and together they mapped out a single hair-raising night. From the tidbits we get, the latest in the franchise seems to take place that very same night, but now we’re miles away in the Spanish countryside, at a sprawling estate. We witness the wedding through the camcorder of Koldo’s cousin Adrián. And the celebrations, directed with wit and gusto, are going off without a hitch.
Until Adrián’s camera spies the bandage on Uncle Victor’s hand. Uncle Victor explains he was bitten by a dog that appeared to be dead. He assures Adrián he’s ok. But minutes later, when Uncle Victor falls from a balcony, bites his wife’s face off and vomits blood on a buxom redhead, we’re reminded of the dangers of self-diagnosis. The place goes nuts, more guests are infected and the newlyweds separated. The film follows their desperate struggle to reunite.
The first REC was the best kind of horror film. The terror was palpable and the film wormed its way into your subconscious, making falling asleep that night difficult. But REC2 was a let-down, lazy by comparison. So this time the series’ co-directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró have decided to shake things up, starting with divvying up the directing duties. Plaza helms this picture and Balagueró will direct the upcoming series finale.
Clearly keen to bring fresh legs to the franchise, Plaza wastes no time in pulling the rug out from under it. We’re twenty minutes in when Adrián’s camera is knocked to the floor, broken. As its little red record light fades to black so does the technique that gave the REC series its name. The rest of the film is shot in traditional fashion – no more first-person perspective, no more ‘found footage’ conceit. A brave move. Or a foolish one. When the realisation sets in that REC3 will look like any old movie, we can’t help but hanker for the gimmick that fuelled the first two – with its unexpected cuts, shoddy images and constant peering around corners.
Likewise, Plaza has decided to make his REC funny. And it is. We get a rifle-toting children’s entertainer dressed in a SpongeBob SquarePants suit (which, despite the zombie apocalypse, he can’t take off because he’s naked underneath), there’s a plump South American waiter who dons a full suit of chain mail and a bespectacled wedding videographer who’s come over-equipped with a Steadicam rig and auteurist pretensions.
Funny yes, but scary? Not really. Plaza has chosen shlock over terror. Zombies appear in doorways or out of the bushes, announced by a jolt in the soundtrack, or they come en masse, staggering hopelessly and groping awkwardly. By contrast, in the previous films, things came from the dark, out of nowhere, and they came fast.
It’s telling then that REC3 really gets the blood pumping when it alludes to its predecessors and to the series’ overarching satanic storyline. Whenever the zombies are reflected in mirrors, we see the terrifying gangly demon from the earlier films. And we glimpse over a character’s shoulder television news footage of the sealed-off Barcelona building. Clearly this outbreak is connected to that one. For a beat we think the film might flip its tone and mine a darker vein. But then the moment passes and we’re tossed back into the zombie hi-jinx.
So thank god for Leticia Dolera, who plays uber-bride Clara. With feline features and full-moon eyes she recalls Shelley Duvall in The Shining (though the Spaniard is better looking). She’s the best thing here and she gives one hell of a performance. We feel unexpected pangs as she grieves that her mother has become a zombie and wants to eat her. And we cheer when she rips her wedding dress to a battle-ready length and, howling “Today is my day!”, chainsaws an infected wedding guest in half.
If REC was the best kind of horror film, REC3 is the fun park variety. Nothing wrong with that. You’ll get a few frights, you’ll laugh and you’ll twist in your seat at the gruesome and unexpected finale. But, alas, you’ll probably have no trouble falling asleep that night.
REC3 goes on general release in Spain on March 30. It will be released in UK theatres on May 11 and in the United States on September 7.
Follow James on twitter: @jamesblick78.
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Published: Mar 30 2012
Category: Featured, Films, IberoArts, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: Balaguero, REC, spain, spain news, spanish news, Spanish news in English, UK