[This review was originally posted to coincide with our coverage at South by Southwest Film 2012. It has been reposted to coincide with its wider theatrical release.]
As a sequel to two of the best found-footage horror films in recent memory, [Rec] 3 falls short in more ways than one. In fact, it’s one of the rare sequels that butchers the established fiction to the point that the previous films feel lessened in effect.
While fans have groaned at [Rec] 3’s departure from being a purely found-footage film, they should really be griping about its director. Without Jaume Balagueró, who co-directed the previous films, [Rec] 3 director Paco Plaza is lost. Instead of creating another uncomfortably intimate horror film, he has created one of the most tonally confused, brashly directed horror films I’ve seen in some time. It’s a bloody mess but not exclusively in the way a horror fan might expect.
[Rec] 3: Genesis
Directors: Paco Plaza
[Rec] 3 is more of a side-story than a true prequel. In fact, there is very little here to chew on for fans of the previous films, unlike [Rec] 2 which practically required viewing the original. Far away from the Barcelona apartment of the previous films, [Rec] 3 takes place at a large ballroom where a newlywed couple and family celebrate in the way all good Europeans do: Loudly and drunk as hell.
To say [Rec] 3’s opening is long-winded and mind-numbingly dull is to put it lightly. It’s hard to make faux-family videos interesting, but Plaza manages to not only make it dull but also incredibly fake as well. [Rec] opened with a similar, tension-free setup but I didn’t mind because the characters were charming and wonderfully established which informed the horrors to come. Here, the characters are cartoon characters that are either loud, obnoxious, or just boring. One thing they all have in common is that they are one-dimensional cliches, including (but not limited to) the groom who is the knight in shiny armor (he literally wears shiny armor!), the bride who snaps and becomes a zombie ass-kicker, and the fat cameraman who gives up before the fight even begins.
If you haven’t read about [Rec] 3 or seen the above trailer yet, you need to know that this sequel largely departs from the series’ found footage roots. After the lengthy opening, shot by a wedding videographer with an HD steadycam, the film abandons the found-footage format with only a few exceptions that feel like unnecessary fan-bait. It’s hard to fault Plaza’s new direction, as there are only so many excuses and gimmicks you can come up with under the constraints of found-footage fiction. Even so, he doesn’t make use of the freedom given. The most spectacular sequence, in which a zombie massacre occurs during the wedding after-party, is shot on handheld. What follows is a mess of zombie films cliche competently shot but hardly interesting.
So what cliches are we talking about? We have a zombie in a room with strobe light effect, rushing to open garage doors, gruesome chainsaw kills, and the classic “Oh no, family member X wants to eat me!” Even if [Rec] 3 just turned the franchise into an uninspired zombie flick, it wouldn’t be so bad. The problem is the film’s schizophrenic script, sappy acting, and overbearing soundtrack. I thought [Rec] and its sequel were a wonderfully restrained response to the loud, shock scares of Hollywood horror in the early ‘00s. After [Rec] 3, I have to wonder if those films only turned out that way due to budgetary restraints.
If there is one thing [Rec] 3 is not, it’s subtle. Unlike the previous films, there are no scenes where tension slowly builds up. Instead, you have a series of oddball gags and exploitation cinema nods interrupted by cheap and irritating jump scares. This is a film where one of the surviving members of the group is dressed in a costume parodying Spongbob Squarepants. Then there is the scene where the bride tears off her bridal skirt with a chainsaw and starts mowing down zombies. If the film wanted to be stupid, it should have just embraced it. The best moments of [Rec] 3 is when it does just that. Such as a Dead Alive-esque scene where the groom kills a zombie by putting a hand blender to the zombie’s mouth. The crowd cheered, but then it was back to the heavy-handed script and loud, cheesy music (I swear those guitars were ripped out of the mid-’80s!)
Even with [Rec] 3 being a terrible sequel and one of the worst horror movies I’ve seen in a while, it shouldn’t effect my memories of [Rec] 1 & 2 … but it does! The only substantial tie to the previous films is that origin of the infection at the wedding is the vet of the sick dog established in [Rec]. The main gripe is the zombies themselves. Now that we see the infected in mass, outside the perspective of found-footage, it’s a lot easier to see how inconsistent they are. Some get infected within seconds, while others take hours. Some run while others walk. It just doesn’t seem well-thought out and only further damages the established fiction built in the previous two films. Are we shooting for reality or a spectacle of violent stupidity? In either case, [Rec] 3 doesn’t commit to either and is all the poorer for it.
Just as Jaume Balagueró proved himself capable of successfully channeling Hitchcock in last year’s Sleep Tight, Paco Plaza has proved himself incapable of making sense of his various influences in the muddled, brashly composed [Rec] 3. The series is so damaged at this point that Balagueró will need to work miracles in his own upcoming solo sequel [Rec] 4: Apocalypse.