It’s impossible to reinvent a genre. Just ask the numerous amateur (and professional) horror maestros who continuously attempt to find new ways to scare us. Even more unfeasible is hitting original gold twice in a row. As they like the say, the sequel to something sensational usually sucks. Enter Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. This dynamic duo is responsible for one of the most amazing one-two punches in all of foreign fright. It takes real talent – extreme talent – to tackle two major borderline DOA terror tropes (the zombie film and the found footage format) and make it work. Not only did their [REC] revitalize even the most cynical scary movie fan’s faith in their favorite film type, but their equally ambitious and masterful [REC]2 managed the unfathomable feat of expanding on the established mythology while making its own case for creepshow classicism.
Now comes the heavily anticipated [REC]3: Genesis, and it’s destined to make some devotees scream with…frustration? Indeed, while many were anticipating a return to that haunting Barcelona apartment complex to see what happened to our favorite survivors, Plaza (handling the directing duties solo) has instead decided to go a bit…sideways? While the title suggests a prequel, this is actually a contemporary story, events happening concurrently with the ones involving our camera crew and a residence filled with…well, let’s not ruin the surprise there. If you go in excepting more of the same, you’ll probably be disappointed, maybe vastly so. If you recognize, however, that Plaza is going for something along the lines of Freddy vs. Jason and The Cabin in the Woods, you’ll cheer for this well done bit of meta macabre.
The storyline is very simple: a bride named Clara (Leticia Dolera) is preparing to marry the man of her dreams, Koldo (Diego Martín). They have a fairytale wedding planned and as the festivities begin, his favorite uncle seems a bit under the weather. He’s complaining about a dog bite he received earlier and begins acting odd. During the reception, the fun is interrupted by the arrival of some members of the walking dead, or at the very least, some blood spattered strangers who seem Hellbent on killing and eating anyone they find. Clara and Koldo escape, get separating, and spend the next hour or so trying to find each other. In the meantime, other members of the party try to protect themselves from these highly mobile monsters, using everything from weapons to religion in order to beat back the horde.
First things first – yes, there is a bit of “you are there” videography in [REC]3. After all, we are witnessing the impending nuptials of a happy couple, and there has to be a home video document of the day. However, once the fiends attack and begin the process of devouring the attendees, the movie turns traditional. We get Plaza playing auteur, offering interesting set-ups and clever compositions. Even better, this obvious fan of horror digs deep into the back catalog of references to take what could have been a minor installment in the series and turn it into a homage to all the influences that came before. Look carefully, and you’ll see obvious nods to Peter Jackson (Dead Alive), Sam Raimi (all the Evil Dead), George Romero (you name it), John Carpenter (same) and even Italian titans Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
This is a gory, goofy celebration of all facets of fear. We get the sudden shocks, the slow burn suspense, the suggested kills and the guts and all action autopsies. Plaza shows real skill here, making sure everything merges together in a coherent, collective whole. We identify with the characters, even care a bit for their eventual wellbeing. We constantly question the relevance to the other two films, and when the obvious connection arrives, we are mostly satisfied with the link. There’s moments of outrageous humor (our male hero dons a suit of armor ala Army of Darkness and wields a massive sword to defend himself) and there are also sequences of uncompromising sentiment. Remember, our couple is madly in love and nothing, not flesh eating ghouls or the government white coats trying to quarantine the situation can stop them.
Of course, no reminder of dread past will please everyone, especially in light of the absolute brilliance that came before. Plaza has some mighty big shoes to fill, and wisely decides to change wardrobes instead of wandering around like a newly clothed emperor. He takes risks, never reveling in the dire atmosphere and tone set by the first two films. Instead, [REC]3 is a reminder of the post post-modern horror experience, a movie made by fans, for fans, who will only react if they are truly indoctrinated in all previous entries in the genre. Plaza then picks through the possibilities, piling on smiles from those who recognize a chainsaw to the head when they see it. Even better, the acting celebrates such a stance, never once delivering camp, kitsch, or a recognizable nod or wink.
This is not to say that [REC]3: Genesis is perfect. It goes by way too fast and yet still finds a way to leisurely stroll along the “I Do” dynamic before getting to the good stuff. It’s also a bit of a mess logically as it seems to suggest a self-contained story and not something we can link to the rest of the overall mythology (maybe [REC]4: Apocalypse will remedy that). Yet within a format that finds it more and more difficult to create new icons, the [REC] series deserves the utmost respect. The first two film are modern masterpieces. [REC]3: Genesis is like a one off diversion/vacation for the men behind the menace. Consider it a chef’s treat, or a butcher’s benefit, but the key is in the creeps. This is an experience that most true fans of fright will enjoy. As for the rest of the [REC] faithful, they may have expected something a bit more direct. Thanks to the wealth of terror that came before, this side track succeeds.