Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2012

[REC] 3: Genesis

Once upon a time, in the land of corpses...

'[REC] 3: Genesis' is a smart and hilarious offshoot from, and response to, its two predecessors

[REC] 3: Genesis
Magnet Releasing
Director: Paco Plaza
Screenplay: Paco Plaza and Luiso Berdejo
Starring: Leticia Dolero, Diego Martín, Javier Botet, Ismael Martínez, Alex Monner, Emilio Mencheta, Borja Glez. Santaolalla and Xavier Ruano
Rated R / 1 hour, 20 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

Call it good timing, but [REC] 3: Genesis came around at the right moment and hit the spot. I'd endured genre picture after genre picture that took itself too seriously, mistaking somberness for gravitas. I needed a movie that actually remembered how to have fun with genre. Frankly, the third entry in a series I wasn't all that wild about in the first place wasn't where I expected to find it, but lo and behold, Genesis provided the precise cure for what ailed my recent moviegoing.

But it served as another kind of antidote as well - an antidote to the persistent conventional wisdom regarding sequels, pure repetition being the modus operandi. When something works, copy it as faithfully as possible, put a "2" next to it, and boom. I've said for years that I wish more franchises would reinvent (rather than repeat) themselves, since the current strategy almost always leads to diminishing returns.

Well, the [REC] 3 filmmakers obviously felt the same way. Not only do they make a hard left turn stylistically - they really make a point of doing so. The first two movies were made in the "found footage" format, filmed exclusively with characters' own handheld recording devices. Genesis begins in the same style, its opening scenes at a wedding shown through camcorder footage shot by Adrián (Àlex Monner), cousin of the groom. At one point, Adrián marvels at the fact that the official wedding videographer, Atún (Borja Glez. Santaolalla), is shooting with - holy cow! - a tripod! "All movies in Hollywood use one of these!" he says.

It is the first of writer/director Paco Plaza's many satirical jabs at his own franchise, which he proceeds to gleefully upend shortly thereafter by abandoning the handheld format altogether. When the casual, happy wedding festivities give way to the inevitable zombie outbreak, the film changes gears accordingly. After a cut to black, we return to the scene (which in this case is a kitchen inside which several characters have barricaded themselves against the onslaught of flesh-eating in the wedding ballroom) and the aesthetic has transformed completely. No more shaky handheld, but a beautiful tripod shot scanning the entire frame, which has shifted to 2.35:1. It's like an unspoken announcement: "This is a movie!"

That kind of meta first act signals the tonal direction in which Genesis is going, but it's only one in a series of surprises, not the least of which is the transition from pure horror (in [REC] and [REC] 2) to sardonic horror-comedy. What ultimately evolves is a warped romantic fairy tale that just happens to take place in the middle of a zombie epidemic.

The newlyweds are the eminently likeable Koldo (Diego Martín) and Clara (Leticia Dolero), who after the initial panic find themselves at opposite ends of the estate where the wedding was held. Both, of course, are certain that the other is still alive, and that through true love they will find one another again. Even if it means slicing their way through an army of the walking undead.

Plaza (who co-directed the first two entries in the series with Jaume Balagueró) never backs off his approach and is constantly finding new ways to use all of the embedded ironies of the setting. Like Koldo donning knight's armor (discovered entombed in glass in the chapel) and grabbing an Excalibur-esque sword to go look for his beloved. Or the recurring presence of the wedding's children's entertainment, a conspicuously familiar-looking, foam-suited performer dubbed (for copyright reasons, he says) "SpongeJohn Squarepants." And yes, he remains in costume throughout the gory proceedings, but only because he's naked underneath. There are a couple of scenes in particular where the movie finds a fantastic way to utilize him. As a sight gag alone, he's golden.

Meanwhile, there's Clara, the beautiful princess covered in blood and wielding a chainsaw, making her way through tunnels and courtyards full of attackers eager for her flesh, all while still dressed in her wedding gown. (She couldn't be a fairy-tale princess without it, could she?)

And just wait until you see what the climactic Grand Romantic Gesture turns out to be.

Despite the number in the title, Genesis is not so much a sequel as a companion piece (in terms of plot) to the first two. Its events are happening around the same time as (and are tangentially related to) the events of the earlier films.

Still, despite an entirely new set of characters and the fact that Plaza has already done the gritty handheld horror thing two times over, there have been (inevitable) complaints about the direction he went this time around. To me, those complaints are nonsense. Whether you loved or hated [REC] and [REC] 2, or fell somewhere in between (like me), those two films have already been done. Making a third one just like the first two would be a waste of everyone's time.

If the approach this time around hadn't worked on its own terms, fine. But Plaza injects so much wit into this reimagining that I couldn't really ask for a better follow-up. More franchises should take note and find ways to take their stories in new directions.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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