Horror Hysteria: “Rec 3: Genesis”

With a poster this awesome, do you actually need a movie?
With a poster this awesome, do you actually need a movie?

The Spanish “REC” series of zombie movies is one which I clutch dearly to my (mostly) undead heart.  The first two entries in the franchise related the frantically-paced tale of a mysterious viral outbreak in a Barcelona apartment building.  Shot in an immediate, first-person style which plunges the viewer directly into the nightmarishly unfolding action, the films tapped into the storytelling techniques familiar to a generation raised on reality TV and “Call of Duty“-style shooters whilst weaving a background tapestry of governmental collusion, demonic possession and societal mistrust.

The third movie doesn’t quite follow this template, which some fans may count as an unforgivable betrayal.  In “REC 3: Genesis”, we find ourselves watching highlights of Koldo and Clara’s wedding day as it unfolds, meeting the bride (who has a secret…), the groom and their respective families and friends as they gather at the church and the reception afterwards.   The first heads-up that things are going “REC” comes when a guest appears to have suffered a dog bite…

 

Ruh Roh

 

Before you can say “Colega, ¿dónde está mi motosierra?”, the recently undead are running amok, chowing down on second cousins and forcing apart Clare and Koldo on the happiest day of their lives.  It’s at this point that the film jettisons any pretence at found footage with a meta-joke about people who keep recording in the midst of a disaster instead of just running for their lives.  The film swaps to a traditional 2:35:1 aspect ratio at this point, giving long-suffering Horror aesthetes like your humble blogger the chance to enjoy the zombie-riffic carnage in a more cinematic style than hand-held video permits.

And this may be the problem for a lot of fans of the series.  In acknowledging the tenets of traditional narrative cinema, the immediacy is lost and you’re watching just a.n. other horror movie, rather than going into the grisly heart of the action as in previous franchise entries. That would be fine if the film was a nerve-shredding exercise in suspense and white-knuckle terror, but this third entry in the series is closer to “Zombieland” than “Zombie Flesh Eaters”.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, but your mileage may vary if you fear the dread spectre of mainstream norms gatecrashing our undead party.

The focus is on situational chuckles rather than survival horror, save for the last ten minutes of the film which take a sojourn into more serious territory.  The performances scale upwards accordingly and if you went into the third movie expecting the vivid terrors of the first two entries, this film’s exaggerated caricatures and more sentimental overtures might well stick in the craw like so much undigested flesh.

 

The Spanish Chainsaw Massacre

 

I really enjoyed this film and was punching the air by the time that Clara (Leticia Dolera) was slashing her wedding dress up with a chainsaw to make easier work of dispatching ghouls.   That it doesn’t have the relentless drive and manic shocks of the first film proved to me that “REC 3” was happy to take a different path and not just repeat the riffs of its predecessors.  Isn’t that a good thing?  Finding some narrative hook to justify a team of survivors documenting their path through an undead uprising rather suggests that the established filming conventions are more important than the story – surely not the right message to send when, as audiences, we complain about studios and film-makers being content to fall back on the same old tropes?

At a scant 80 minutes, it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome and is at least trying to do something different – I’ve can’t recall the last time I saw a ravenous horde of flesh-munchers stopped in their shuffling tracks by a priest reciting Bible verse over the hotel P.A. system…

 

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31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “(Rec)”

Nightmarishly gruelling terror, Spanish-style...
Nightmarishly gruelling terror, Spanish-style…

 

If I’ve learned one thing from participating in this 31 Days of Horror blog challenge, it’s that non-Hollywood film offers the best chill for your buck.

The studios have the cash, but the indie and international films have mastered the fine art of using their limitations creatively to scare the living pants off you – witness Spain’s (Rec) from 2007.

 

 

As directed by Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza, “(Rec)” relates the story of Angela (Manuela Velasco), a local TV presenter in Barcelona fronting the show “While You’re Asleep”.  Angela’s beat is to follow people who work whilst the wider world slumbers and on this night, she’s shadowing guys from the local fire station.  She’s convinced that she’s in for a dull show until a call comes in from an apartment building.

It's all smiles until a viral zombie outbreak ruins your day...
It’s all smiles until a viral zombie outbreak ruins your day…

 

The crew are called to rescue a confused elderly woman locked in her apartment.  On closer inspection she’s covered in blood and a wee bit bitey.  Angela and her long-suffering cameraman Pablo capture everything as the elderly woman attacks the firemen, mortally wounding their supervisor.  From that point, the fit really hits the shan as the local police and military seal off the building, trapping the remaining tenants inside with an increasing complement of feral, meat-crazed, virally-created predators.  The survivors numbers drop by the minute until only Angela and Pablo are left to document the horror, culminating in a visit to the mysteriously locked and sealed-off apartment at the top of the building.

It is here in the last twenty minutes of the film that Balaguero and Plaza really get their hooks into you, with the found footage conceit working at its peak effectiveness and Velasco’s embodiment of abject terror being totally convincing. The combination of performance, staging, cinematography and direction conspire to utterly grip and even scare the viewer – the first time in this 31 Days of Halloween Hysteria that I’ve actually been on the edge of my seat and frightened by the film.

That “(Rec)” is a scant 75 minutes in length is also of note –  it makes you wonder why more directors don’t just get in, scare the bejesus out of their audiences and then drop the mic in triumph.

Two follow-ups have been released to date, with a fourth due imminently – the parallel sequel “(Rec 2)”, hybrid prequel/sequel “(Rec 3: Genesis)” and final instalment “(Rec 4: Apocalypse)”.  Two American films remade the franchise for subtitle-averse audiences in the form of “Quarantine” and “Quarantine 2: Terminal”.  Whilst it would be foolish to judge a film without seeing it, the fact that the cover art for the US remake appears to give away the very last moments of the movie doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence.

Still, “(Rec)” is a cracking horror movie on it’s own and I’m going to continue to watch the rest of the series with great interest to see how this refreshingly scary take on the zombie genre develops.