No doubt Paco Plaza’s third instalment in the popular [REC] franchise will offend a lot of purists when, twenty minutes in, it ostentatiously dumps the whole ‘found footage’ premise on which the original title was founded in favour of a baroque, widescreen assault on the senses, that sets out to differentiate and distance itself from the grainy, camcorder-based, amateur POV recording style of the previous two instalments (co-directed with Spain’s horror maestro Jaume Balagueró), by about as much space as it is technically possible for it to manage -- and goes on to present the viewer with a heady, visually splendid operatic feast of precise cinematic technique and aesthetic lushness with a tone that juggles its referenced sub-genres with assured dexterity instead; Plaza, David Gallart and Luiso Berdejo’s screenplay gives us absurdist humour one minute, gore-drenched excitement, adventure and romance the next and tops it all off with a hint of the uncompromising, grungy, gut-wrenching terror which made the previous two instalments essential entries in everyone’s list of favourite horror flicks of the last ten years.
Perhaps both Plaza and Balagueró want to remind us again of what they are actually capable of as visual stylists, with this entry: both directors have produced aesthetically interesting work in the past, but the [REC] films are the only ones which have garnered them a wide appeal and have thus been the only films to really fix their names in the public mind; while the quieter, more low-key efforts they started out with, often based on brooding horror stories by Ramsey Campbell (Balagueró’s noirish thriller “The Nameless” and Plaza’s “Second Name”) made little impression beyond committed fans of European horror in general. There’s a price to be paid for this move, of course ,and that’s the reason why “[REC] Genesis” has provoked some wildly differing reactions: as a piece of filmmaking and a visual spectacle it is second to none, and might even be one of the most ravishing-looking horror films of recent years. But the film’s self-aware mix of comedy, tragedy, horror and pathos catapults it into an entirely different area of the horror genre from the relentless, full-on assault on the nerves which was the hallmark of both previous two [REC] films; and to some, the change in approach feels like a betrayal of the whole franchise.
Well, you can count me firmly in the camp which is perfectly fine with Plaza’s decision to approach this sequel (although none of the films in the series are technically ‘sequels’ since they all depict events occurring simultaneously) as though it was a director’s showreel -- in which he gets to make full use of all the technical resources and gimmicks that the successes of the franchise thus far have made possible, in order to turn what is (like both of the other films before it) still a collection of zombie kill set-pieces into a masterclass display in cinematically literate action-horror filmmaking. The production team craftily highlight the difference in approach by giving us the first twenty minutes as a sort of pre-credits prologue in the style we’ve come to expect and are accustomed to seeing from a [REC] movie: this time we’re at the wedding of likable young couple Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martín), who seem to be quite well-off since the main service is followed by a huge reception in the grounds of an architecturally splendid Spanish villa-style hotel complex opposite the chapel. The whole event is being captured from every angle on a cousin’s camcorder, as well as numerous guests’ camera phones and by the efforts of an official wedding video-maker (Borja Glez Santaolalla) who makes constant reference to his cinematic influences (the cinéma vérité of Vertov and early Renoir). The film even starts with a DVD menu screen and a home-made computer generated gallery of holiday snaps of the happy couple’s relationship, accompanied by cheesy music (although why anyone bothers to edit the whole thing together like this given what happens, remains a mystery!).
This relatively lengthy build up is actually a convincing way of introducing us to the main guests and relatives of the two families involved, who are later to play various roles in the zombie action proper, without having to waste time on character development once the carnage actually does hit the screen; we get to see the relevant sides to each of their personalities during the shaky home movie footage section, and when a previously chirpy uncle throws himself from the balcony during the evening reception party that’s being held in the villa’s spacious banqueting hall, starts slathering at the mouth on the floor and then takes a bite out of one of the matronly guests who bend down to help him up, it at first looks as though the film is going to follow a similar course to the others in the series, with Koldo’s cousin shooting the resultant topsy-turvy zombie carnage on his digital camera while he and some other guests flee through the hotel’s kitchens and attempt to barricade themselves from previously partying relatives who are now vomiting blood and eating each other.
This is where the film first loosens its self-reflexive muscles, as the cousin promises to document everything that happens from now on with his camera and the others look at him as though he’s mad, until Koldo snatches the camcorder from him and smashes it on the floor! This cues in the titles (one third of the way into the movie!) and when we return to the action we’re suddenly presented with a whole new filmic texture in a conventional zombie genre piece with a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shaky unframed POV digital footage replaced by consciously artistic framing from outside of the action, smooth steady-cam, lengthy tracking shots and majestic crane sweeps. Actually, I was surprised to learn that this film was still shot on digital video rather than on film, since much of it has the look and feel of a 1980s Italian horror in the style of Michele Soavi’s “Stagefright” or “The Church”, for instance.
The vivid palette of colours being worked with here, and the attention paid to composing and crafting memorable images, gives this a sense of the operatic, and there are some pretty bold references to horror classics such as “Carrie” or “The Shining”; even the opening night-time storm sequence in “Suspiria” is superbly evoked during one beguiling section of the movie when Clara confronts her zombified mom during a torrential downpour, magenta and blue from a neon sign reflecting in the cascading waters . Another brave addition to the [REC] universe is the inclusion of overt humour. This is possibly the one thing most likely to annoy the purists. No longer is everything being played completely straight; there are comic characters such as the children’s entertainer, who finds himself stuck in his ridiculous costume (based on a popular children’s cartoon character that may or may not be modelled on Spongebob Squarepants) throughout the entire zombie incident, because he’s wearing nothing underneath. To be fair, Plaza continues to treat the demonic plague itself completely seriously and there are many tense moments still; the humour in the film is more character-based and, if anything, actually helps us to relate more quickly to some minor characters that are only ever going to be on screen for a short time before they inevitably get infected. This added vein of humour does make it possible to include some much more over-the-top instances of gore this time out, though, and get away with it -- with zombies meeting a panopoly of unusual demises along the way, including one who gets an operating electric food mixer rammed down its throat!
Ultimately, that the film succeeds as well as it does is mainly down to the believability of the central couple as the meagre plot resolves itself around their becoming separated during the initial panic when the plague first erupts in the banquet hall, and they’re subsequently forced, belligerently, to set about doing everything possible to be reunited with each other, no matter how many demon-possessed zombie friends and relatives might be standing in their path. This paves the way for Leticia Dolera to transform herself into one of the most likable screen heroines to emerge for some time – tearing away the skirts of her white wedding dress to reveal a blood red garter belt underneath, as she definitely revs up a chainsaw in order to get medieval on demon-zombie ass!
Looking absolutely magnificent in colour & detail enhancing HD, Entertainment One provide a handsome Blu-ray presentation for “[REC] Genesis” with some excellent speaker- shredding audio to showcase the film’s amazing sound design. Mike Salas’ score is diverse and forceful, incorporating everything from ambient rock, orchestral and even technopop cues as it seeks to keep up with Plaza’s ever-changing tonal palette of lush visuals. The Blu-ray edition also comes with a fantastic making-of documentary from Filmax which, at 1 hour and 52 minutes in length, follows in the tradition of those making-ofs that end up being considerably longer than the main feature they’re documenting. This is a really fascinating and detailed look behind the scenes though, which first examines the reasons for switching styles with this entry in the first place and then launches into a scene-by-scene breakdown of the making of the entire movie, looking at it from every relevant angle: from location, costume design, makeup, cinematography, digital FXs – the works! This is a thoughtful, thorough and -- if you like the film -- essential aid to one’s appreciation of it. The disc also features 22 minutes of deleted scenes and 2 minutes of outtakes.
There will be some who have qualms about the whole approach being taken here, but this entry comes across as more a digression than a sequel or even a prequel to the other films, although we do get a little more information on how the religious and biblical side of the plague outbreak affects the progress of the zombie possessions, thanks to the involvement of the priest who marries Clara and Koldo at the start of the movie. It looks as though Plaza has allowed the franchise the option of returning to the original format should audiences have refused to accept the change in style, but chances are Jaume Balagueró will be looking to further experiment when he comes to direct the final entry in the series, “[REC] Apocalypse”, soon.