Monday, April 2, 2012

[REC3]: Genesis (SXSW 2012)

Directed by: Paco Plaza

It might very well improve your viewing experience to pretend that this film is not entitled [REC3].

As it is, [REC3]: Genesis follows the zombie outbreak to a wedding reception as partygoers-turned-flesh eaters rapidly turn the proceedings into a bloodbath. Amidst the carnage, newlyweds Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martin) are separated and must hack their way through undead friends and loved ones to reunite.

Yeah, not exactly what one expects as a description for the third installment in the [REC] series (and that's without mentioning the format switch). A little underwhelming, perhaps? Not very rousing, I agree. So, let's try redacting the title and running the description back one time.

[REC3]: Genesis follows the zombie outbreak to a wedding reception as partygoers-turned-flesh eaters rapidly turn the proceedings into a bloodbath. Amidst the carnage, newlyweds Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martin) are separated and must hack their way through undead friends and loved ones to reunite.

Sounds better, doesn't it? At least, a little bit? Point is, redact the title, ignore it, maybe swap it for something else -- Dead Wedding, Till Undeath Do Us Part, Zombie Honeymoon (oh, wait...) whatever -- it just plays better casting that title aside. For better or worse, [REC3] is brand identification, and this film is not indicative of that established label. That said, I'm unsure if it's fair of me to hold it against the finished product for not delivering on what I think the film should be. Perhaps, I've saddled the picture with unfair expectations. Although, I doubt I'll be alone in that department.

While I'm staunchly not in favor of the found footage genre, I greatly appreciated and enjoyed the first two [REC] movies. In fact, I prefer [REC2] despite the re-treading nature as the film offered a fresh perspective and a killer conclusion that promised something grander ahead for the next film. Unfortunately, [REC3] fails to live up to that promise. It does not go bigger. It does not expand on the mythology. It doesn't really answer some of the more pertinent questions. And what's most frustrating, based on the production value displayed, it certainly appears that the filmmakers had the budget to do all those things with this feature.

Now, if you can sever ties to the [REC] franchise, there's ample to enjoy. The director, Paco Plaza, severs those ties early on and aggressively by visual means. The film's first stanza is presented as a found footage wedding video, setting up the characters and dropping the cues of the forthcoming infection. Frankly, it's the least interesting section of the film, and I welcomed the abrupt shift to a standardly shot film as the handheld shaky cam disappeared. The switch happens suddenly as Koldo rips the camera away from the videographer, smashes it against the floor and toebashes the lens until we cut to the red recording dot on a black screen. This red dot slowly fades then dies, and the found footage look dies along with it. When the film fades back in, we pickup right after the camera-bashing except now all is lensed in a cinematic scope. This rough transition symbolizes the change in direction, signifying that this will be a very different [REC] movie visually, narratively and tonally.

One of those stark differences is the tone. Gone is the straight-ahead bleak scarefest typical of the previous installments. In it's place is more of a horror-comedy hybrid that emphasizes sensationalized gore. Before you'd see a character yanked off screen screaming in agony only to return as a blood-drenched deadhead whereas now you'll see that character mobbed and bloodily chewed asunder. Or previously you'd see someone cower, hide and scramble for cover as opposed to the latest approach that sees our groom goofily dawn knightly armor to protect himself as he searches the reception hall. Putting expectations to the side, it all works quite well and makes for a lot of fun.

Technically speaking, Plaza deserves credit for excelling at making a traditional horror film. Whether it was his intention or not, Plaza certainly proves that his talent isn't relegated to the found footage stylings. [REC3] is beautifully shot, rich and vibrant. After the format switch, I anticipated that Plaza might struggle blocking action scenes, reflexively falling back to a handheld camera operator documenting the events with way better image quality. Fortunately, Plaza's action direction is strong in places, if not spectacular, and always solid. If anything the direction lingers a bit long, at times, on the attacks and gore in sort of the opposite end of the spectrum from the "peek-a-boo" found footage approach. In regard to the horror effects, Plaza doesn't shy from putting the gore on display, and does so with largely practical applications rather than CGI over-reliance. And while I've been critical in the way expectations were defied, I still must credit Plaza for attempting to divert the [REC] formula in so many phases and bravely jettisoning the safety of found footage.

If you're familiar with this franchise, you know that Plaza co-directed the prior films with James Balaguero yet helmed this one alone. Apparently, the pair opted to split up in order to finish off the franchise so each could craft their own final entry to complete the trilogy. Thus, it seems as though we'll have the unique situation where we have four films comprising a single trilogy by swapping out one or the other on the backend. Even with this line of thinking, Balaguero's film will carry sequential numbering, tentatively titled [REC4]: Apocalypse.

Make or Break scene - The high point of [REC3] occurs in a tunnel/corridor where Clara has the opportunity to escape clear and free, but instead she makes a stand; she opts to turn around and fight through a zombie horde, vowing not to leave without her husband. This scene succeeds on multiple levels. For one, you believe Leticia Dolera's conviction and unrelenting love, never doubting for a second that she would march through infected monsters. And second, she doesn't march through them empty-handed, but rather with chainsaw-in-hand and sexily tearing her gown to skirt length for better zombie-killing technique. Also, as corny as it may sound, Clara bellows that this is her day -- the bride's day -- and no one's going to ruin it as she cuts her undead assailants to bits, working to wonderful comedic effect. And if anyone tries to steal her special day, as the cool action unfolds, she'll feed them a roaring chainsaw blade. Literally.

MVT - For many of the reasons listed above, Leticia Dolera as Clara is the most valuable thing about the film. I love the ferocity with which she conveys her determination in finding Koldo. At the same time, she's able to portray a very heartfelt emotional performance, especially in creating that necessary chemistry with Koldo. Her performance is so well developed that it enhances Diego Martin's work as Koldo, making you understand why he, likewise, refuses to vacate the premises without his wife.

Score - 7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment