When Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero’s [REC] first appeared in 2007, it was a much-needed kick up the arse to both the found-footage and zombie genres. Shot in near-real time, the Spanish duo spun a relentless tale of an outbreak of un-deadness in an apartment block in Barcelona, captured on film by a documentary crew.
Having the media stumble upon the biggest story of their (soon to be over) lives was the perfect excuse for them to continue filming when all Hell broke loose, usually the bane of all found-footage films, but it was the explanation of the outbreak that really set [REC] apart from it’s peers. A tense final scene revealed that Patient Zero wasn’t just a zombie, but a victim of demonic possession.
2009′s [REC]2 expanded on this premise, set on the same night (and for a while, concurrently with), as the original, this time with a squad of Special Forces Police, equipped with helmet cameras (again, a good explanation for constant filming) and a gang of miscreant teenagers in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This time around, the demonic angle was pushed to the fore, with the infected responding to religious iconography and communicating with a Priest sent in to retrieve a blood sample that will hopefully form the basis of a cure to the disease.
Even more than the original, the atmosphere of the film was that of a haunted house movie, all dark corridors and lurking terrors. Coupled with some genuinely unsettling ideas and the pair’s usual kinetic direction, it was a sequel every bit as good as the original, so hopes have been very high for the final two installments, the first of which is the prequel, [REC]3: Genesis.
For a start, Baluguero is gone; instead Plaza has been left to his own devices, with his partner taking Part 4, [REC]: Apocalypse to himself. More importantly, instead of a gut-churning scarefest, [REC]3: Genesis is a comedic love story, filmed as a regular movie.
To be fair, it’s a bold decision and rather than retread old ground, Plaza should be congratulated for trying something new with the franchise. It’s just a shame it doesn’t quite work.
Set at a wedding in a sprawling country manor, we’re introduced to the cast via the wobbly hand-held video we’ve come to expect from a [REC] film. As newlyweds Koldo and Clara, Diego Martin and Leticia Dolera make for a convincing young couple in love and their quest to find each other, which makes up the bulk of the movie, is convincing enough to make us care whether they actually do or not.
As the wedding video unfolds, we’re introduced to Uncle Pepe, sporting a bandaged hand, thanks to a bite from a dog that “looked dead then it just jumped right up”. From then on, the clock is ticking on Koldo and Clara’s big day. A glimpse of government officials in Hazmat suits on the outskirts of the grounds only adds to the feeling of impending doom.
This is offset however, with a brief interview with SpongeJohn, a scrawny children’s entertainer in a ludicrous costume, that can’t be associated with Spongebob for legal reasons. Coupled with some genuinely funny interplay dialogue and a light tone, it’s obvious, even at this early stage, that this is a different kind of film than it’s predecessors.
It’s not long before Uncle Pepe turns and the carnage begins. It works perfectly, with the shaky camera work adding to the intensity and confusion as chaos ensues with the virus spreads rapidly resulting in the bride and groom being accidentally separated.
At this point, it is very much the [REC] that we know. Koldo scolds his cameraman nephew for still filming: “I have to, people have a right to know what’s going on” he replies. It’s a clever nod to conceit of the first film, before his camera is smashed to the ground as we fade to black amongst burning film stock and a title page.
From then on in, the found footage is abandoned and the movie takes a turn towards the traditional, as we are left with a classically-shot narrative. It’s a neat way to do it, but it’s the last time we see anything approaching original.
Instead, [REC] 3 becomes a regular, humorous zombie romp, with the unhappy couple fighting their way back to each other via a series of ever sillier set pieces. The groom’s adoption of a suit of medieval armour is a gag too far, but seeing a chainsaw-wielding bride chopping up zombies has an undeniably trashy appeal!
The change in filming style also allows is a better view of the infected and they don’t disappoint, being a mix of shambling Romero-style zombies and the more light-on-their-loafers types we’ve been used to in this series, with a nice touch being their reflections in mirrors showing their true demonic aspects.
The real problem [REC] 3: Genesis has is that’s it’s a sequel to [REC] and [REC] 2.
If it had been a standalone film, the humour, splatter gags and charismatic leads at the heart of the story would have been enough to make this blackest of comedies a joy to watch but in abandoning the unpredictability, tension and doom-laden horror of it’s predecessors, as well as the immersion that comes with hand-held footage, Plaza has only served to remind us of what we’re missing.
Hopefully Jaume Balaguero’s [REC] 4: Apocalypse will live up to it’s name and give us a conclusion that doesn’t stray too far from the original premise.
[REC]3: Genesis will screen as part of Film4 FrightFest and is available on UK DVD on September 3rd vis Entertainment One.