Friday, July 27, 2012

[REC] 3: Genesis (2012) dir. Paco Plaza

Logline: A sequel/prequel/something-or-other to the two previous times that a couple of cameras got trapped inside a quarantined building chock full of demon-possessed zombies. This time out, a wedding reception gets iffy when the guests start trying to chew each others' faces off. Will the newlyweds arrive at the airport in time to catch their flight to the honeymoon? Will there even be a honeymoon? Discover the answer to neither question (but do discover your tolerance for pain) in [REC] 3: Genesis.

A short time ago, I imagined that if the world was just, kind, and fair (as we so often hope it is despite the evidence), then The Devil Inside would be the worst horror film I would see this year. The world, ever-willing to let me writhe in agony from the moderate comfort of my couch, bestowed upon me Paco Plaza's [REC] 3: Genesis soon thereafter. The Devil Inside is a pointless string of video images shoddily crafted for the sole purpose of generating ticket sales that dwarf its production budget-- this makes it a contemptible work, I'm sure we can agree. On the contrary, [REC] 3 is an idiotic film, all too confident in its nonexistent wit and charm; a film not only alienating to fans of the series' previous entries, but also assuredly daft to even those souls latching on to every insignificant entry in the past decade's zombie boom. It's a film whose motives are entirely perplexing, fashioning a wildly uneven end-product capable of eliciting no more than groans less passionate than those of the shambling undead. I despise and have no respect for a film like The Devil Inside; I can only pity [REC] 3.

So the biggest issue is the film's tone. While the two previous [REC] films (which I've enjoyed to varying degrees), busied themselves by being no more than relentless P.O.V. roller-coaster rides, [REC] 3 decides that it will be a horror comedy of the zany, gross-out variety (its obvious touchstones being Dead Alive and The Evil Dead, though its mundanity and graspings for emotional resonance mark it as an ill-advised attempt at Shaun of the Dead-level comedy). It's fair to assume that this switch-up of the series' M.O. would be off-putting even if the switch were largely successful (imagine if, after Parts 1 and 2, the producers of the Friday the 13th series then jumped straight to Jason Goes to Hell for their third outing). But the comedy that fuels the film (if we dare call it comedy) is roughly as subtle as the electric mixer that our heroine shoves into the mouth of a zombie in the third act. Whenever it's obvious that we're supposed to laugh (such as during the several low angle shots offering us deliberate peeks up the bride's torn dress, or when a Child Entertainer named Sponge John (copyright issues, he repeats) is forced to evade the zombie horde in his bow-tie-adorned sponge costume because he's not wearing anything underneath), its humor falls somewhere below the lowest common denominator. On most other occasions, it's unclear what reaction the film is aiming for-- when the new husband lops the arm off of his infected wife and she tells him immediately after that she always knew he'd make a good father, are we intended to chuckle? It hardly matters when considering that we never feel the urge to, but even so: why then continue that climactic scene by tossing in false and cloying emotional notes and resolving the whole bloody affair as a bullet-riddled melodrama? The parts don't mesh, and each part would produce a dreadful-enough film on its own. Those first two [REC] films, if nothing else, were at least visceral and frightening. [REC] 3 is just goopy, and it can't figure out the proper pronunciation of "boo!" Our heroine wields a chainsaw and our hero dashes around in a protective suit of armor, and somehow [REC] 3 is still devoid of charm. Looked at in one way, that's an accomplishment.

Putting aside its narrative failings, it's also one of the more annoying recent examples of a film exploiting the found footage aesthetic without bothering to commit to it. The initial two [REC] films were found footage through-and-through, even if they never bothered to divulge how the footage was recovered (it didn't matter-- those [REC] films used the FF aesthetic not because of its storytelling potential but because of where it placed the viewer in relation to the action on screen: as a part of it. This is a different approach from most other FF films (even those that are exclusively P.O.V.) and it produces an effect akin to those motion theater rides I used to go on at the local Funscape, or (as a reference for anyone who is not me) Disney World's Star Tours). [REC] 3 needlessly stamps out on the found footage route for approximately twenty minutes before having one of its characters smash the camera in disgust at the operator's contrived rationalization for continuing to film (a staple of the genre: "people need to know what happened here!") and quickly transforming itself into the traditionally-lensed, cliched zombie comedy I've already described. It makes a few momentary relapses into FF by way of security cam footage and helpful night-vision navigation, but it never attempts to attain its predecessors' immersive effect (little of the zombie carnage occurs in the FF sections). If Plaza (co-director of the first two films and sole director here) is so determined to separate his film from the aesthetic that dominated the previous entries, why remind viewers of how much better they were by including and then disposing of such a blatant visual reference back to them? (Even the sequel to [REC]'s American remake, Quarantine 2: Terminal, knew not to make this mistake). Is Plaza's more-than-figurative smashing of the camera supposed to imply that his traditional approach is better? An awfully misguided assumption if so. Regardless, it's not as if adding a shaky camera operator to the exact content of this film would make it any more palatable. Like the drunk uncle who crashes the film's wedding and introduces the infection to the guests, [REC] 3 is embarrassing, unwanted, and fundamentally diseased, inspiring in all who it encounters a desire for it to wander off to some secluded corner and mercifully expire.

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