Toronto After Dark 2012: [REC]3 Review

[On a personal note, I’ve seen each of the films in this series at different film festivals and, incidentally, each entry was a reflection of the venue I managed to view it. [REC] is bleeding-edge bit of genre mayhem with brilliant sound design, fitting for the vocal crowd and kick-ass acoustics in The Hall Cinema at Montreal’s FantAsia Festival. [REC]2 chews into its own mythology and in a smart and original way ups the filmmaking to a level of significantly higher assurance – perfectly fit for TIFF’s Midnight Madness screening. And [REC]3 goes for a crowd pleasing goofy ride – one perfect for Zombie Appreciation Night at The Toronto After Dark Film Festival.]

Koldo and Clara picked the wrong day to get married. Their wedding reception just happens to fall at the same time as the lowrise across town is being zombified and quarantined. When a party guest arrives, apparently bitten by the same infected dog as the first film, it is only a matter of time before the grand ballroom becomes a grand guignol of splattered blood and vomit. Sporting a wonderful (and uniquely varied) location for a zombie infection, that of an very upscale castle, [REC]3: Genesis manages to swing the popular spanish series in an entirely new direction.

There comes a point in every franchise when you have to start breaking the base rules. The second sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween dropped Michael Myers completely. Originally this was not taken as a sign of quality, the ensuing years have been rather kind to “Season of the Witch,” and that is not because of the resurgence of a certain Donovan tune. The [REC] franchise started out with two directors, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró and an early lead in the found-footage derby of horror films in starting 2007 (Cloverfield was in 2008, Paranomral Activity in 2009 and The Last Exorcism in 2010) and upping the volume of entries right up to the present with Paranomral 4 and The Bay among others. [REC]3: Genesis sheds a director and [*SPOILER ALERT*] at about the 25 minute mark drops the found-footage conceit completely to replace it with a lushly framed aesthetic and fairy-tale tone. It also drops the exhausting ‘boo-jump-scare’ technique in favour of hommages towards Peter Jackson’s and Sam Raimi’s zombie set-piece slapstick. A descent into more familiar zombie territory, one might think, would hurt the film (god knows there are enough mid-budget zombie films out there these days) but the differences turn out to be a blessing and Plaza has certainly upped his craft upon directing this entry solo.

The film sports an excellent sense of geography, first seen in the wedding video under normal circumstances, then seen again during the chaos of the outbreak. This sort of ‘first-person-shooter videogame map’ plays well with the tone of the film, in particular when the characters start to pick up weapons (a mace or a chain-saw, for instance.) The botched wedding allows for a fair bit of levity both subtle and obvious. A friend of the bride laments showing up at the wedding (only due to a cheap flight ticket) while the Bride admits that she only offered the invite to be polite. The more obvious laugh-engine is the how the bride goes from scared shitless (perhaps at having her mothers innards being blown across her face) to Bridezilla upon having her special day go down in flames. A better sub-title than the hopelessly generic “Genesis” would have been the wordier “Until Death Do Us Part,” which underscores just how well they milk the marriage angle. Generally I am not one to suffer the likes of pandering zombie cinema (or for that matter, anything pandering in the any genre!) but this one is surprisingly effective, mainly due to focused storytelling and a effectiveness for setting up and paying off narrative gags. Even if the director occasionally loses faith in his audience and has to remind the slower members of the viewing audience of the set-up. Otherwise the film mostly follows the ‘shot-don’t-tell’ rule. And while the film is content to RECklessly (sorry!) violate the structure of the franchise, it stays true to the over-arching mythology and ends up as a fun time at the movies.

Post Script: With [REC]3 favouring pretty cinematography and upscale production design, here is hoping that the final entry in the franchise, which is shooting as this review is published, sticks with this new direction and lets the franchise go out on the high note it deserves.

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Sean Kelly

In all fairness, Paranormal Activity was also made and screened at festivals in 2007, before sitting on the shelf for two years.