Written by: Paco Plaza (screenplay), Luiso Berdejo (screenplay), and David Gallart (original idea)
Directed by: Paco Plaza
Starring: Leticia Dolera, Diego MartŪn and Javier Botet
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďThis was my day!"
[REC] 3 is the third entry in a found footage series that revolves around zombie-like creatures--on paper, ingredients donít come much more stale than this lately, but, thankfully, series co-creator Paco Plaza had no intentions of force-feeding the same old recipe. His follow-up isnít just different from the two films preceding it--itís an almost aggressive deviation that delights in thumbing its nose not only at the franchiseís conventions, but also movie clichťs in general.
It begins familiarly enough, with viewers being treated to a wedding video that chronicles the nuptials of Koldo (Diego Martin) and Clara (Leticia Dolera). A patchwork of handheld cameras captures the pre-wedding chatter, the ceremony, and, finally, the reception, where the drunk-and-puking-on-himself-uncle routine becomes ominous as hell when an older relative takes a spill from a second story overlook. Remarkably, he seems unharmed, at least until he takes a chunk out of another wedding guest. Soon, the entire place is crawling with ravenous, infected flesh-eaters that send everyone scurrying for cover. As Koldo and a group of his friends duck into the kitchen, they turn to the cameraman, who insists that everything must be filmed since everyone deserves to know whatís going on--which prompts Koldo and his buddies to stare incredulously before smashing the shit out of the camera.
Suddenly, all bets are off, and that exchange signals all you need to know about [REC] 3, a film that shakes up the formula by switching over to a more traditional, cinematic format. Untethered from its found footage aesthetic, the film literally and figuratively opens up. Wisely, the film isnít as physically cramped; instead of being confined to one location, the events sprawl out between a couple of buildings, some exteriors, and even an underground tunnel system. Filmed in roomy widescreen, the film proves that Plaza isnít committed to beating his one-trick pony, and itís a lushly photographed, candy-colored, 70s Argento-tinted splatter-fest delivered through a pastiche of conventional lenses and security cam footage.
Tonally, the film is similarly unencumbered; whereas the first two films thrived on claustrophobia and tension, part three is a little bouncier. Even after itís demolished the franchiseís central conceit, it continues to subtly poke and prod at clichťs without plunging into overt parody. When some of the guys attempt to stuff themselves into a ventilation shaft, one of the heftier of the bunch canít fit, and, though itís not played for laughs, itís a moment that shows a keen sort of awareness. Plaza cleverly takes a wry, offbeat approach thatís more fun than the previous films, and even the apocalyptic vibe is only given lip service in the form of a priest (who gets a riff on Ken Foreeís Dawn of the Dead speech) and the church setting, but this is really [REC] by way of a slightly dialed down Return of the Living Dead.
Or perhaps a better reference point would be Return of the Living Dead 3 since Plaza has buried a sweet, endearing little love story in here. Koldo and Clara bring the same everyman humanity thatís familiar to this series, and itís the latter who completely takes over the film. In one of those clever, knowing moments, Plaza has Koldo literally become a knight in shining armor. The only problem is that his princess isnít content to sit up in some tower and wait to be rescued, and Dolera commands the screen with a maniacal, wide-eyed gaze. Armed with a chainsaw, she becomes the filmís Ash, and, by the time sheís waded through a horde of the infected, it seems like a more appropriate subtitle would have been The Blood-Spattered Bridezilla. Sweet, beautiful, and feral, Dolera is the film's linchpin, the empathetic presence that makes it work on a human level even as bodies are getting severed in half.
Remarkably, the filmís boisterous energy doesnít undercut its gravity. [REC] 3 isnít as claustrophobic or intense as the films that came before, but itís no less engaging or serious. Horror and comedy are difficult to balance, and Plaza grounds this outing just right--itís playful without being silly, fun without being a cheeky romp. Once the film shifts from the admittedly listless found footage opening, thereís a ruthless momentum and a gleeful disposition that revels in spraying viscera and laughs. [REC] 3 stops just short of Sam Raimiís splatstick temperament since the gore isnít as over-the-top--itís maybe right at the top and reigns itself in with moments of genuine heft.
Some will balk at a sequel thatís almost wholly disconnected from its predecessors, but I think more horror franchises should take a cue from [REC] 3, a film that isnít afraid to take liberties with the nature of its very existence. Five years ago, Plaza and Jaume Balaguerů helped to reignite the found footage fire, and [REC] 3 sees Plaza douse those flames a little bit. Horror franchises sometimes have a tendency to degenerate into outright camp when they grow a funny bone, but Plaza has successfully reconfigured his own series from both a stylistic and tonal standpoint, a welcome change of pace from the assembly line nature that prevents many franchises from deviating from the course. From a mythology standpoint, [REC] 3 is a bit of a wash--if anything, itís just another sideways sequel, and, while the title ironically promises revelations by taking us back to the source of the virus, it doesnít shed any sort of light; instead, it sort of feels like some of the later Saw sequels because itís a gory aside or stopgap, so Balaguerůís own solo effort (already in development) may represent the first true sequel in the series. Either way, let's hope he's as audacious with it as Plaza was with this third entry. Buy it!
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