Review: '[REC] 3' delivers gore and thrills and unexpected laughs at midnight
SXSW's first round of midnight shows featured a much-anticipated horror sequel
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I have always found the idea of a horror franchise to be somewhat backwards.
Horror frequently relies on the unknown to scare us. There is an involuntary element to what happens when a great scare delivers. The more often we see a monster and the more close-up we get with it, the less chance there is it's going to scare us. Most horror franchises revolve around the constant resurrection/destruction cycle, bringing their boogeymen back from the dead at the start, then making sure he is defeated again by the end.
It bores me. I don't understand people who watch something like "Halloween 5," unless maybe that's their version of comfort food. Familiar. Comforting. Utterly without any chance of actually scaring you. I'd rather be off-balance in a horror film, uncomfortable, trying to get my bearings.
The "[REC]" series so far has been interesting, basically telling two different stories around the same basic incident, and Paco Plaza, who is one of the primary architects of the series so far, deserves credit for understanding how easy it is for these films to get stale. He was the co-director of the first two films with Jaume Balaguero, and now for "[REC] 3," he's the director and co-writer, and he's made a pretty bold conceptual jump in where he took this entry in the series. In the process, he may lose some people who love the first two, and he may appeal to people who just weren't interested in that mockumentary approach.
While "[REC] 3" does indeed start with handheld footage from several different perspectives of a wedding in progress in Spain, there's a point about 15 minutes in, just as things are starting to get crazy, where a camera is dropped and broken. The main title comes up, and when we cut back, we are suddenly in a movie. No more first-person POV from video cameras. For most of its running time, "[REC] 3" has more in common visually with mid-era Argento films than it does with either of the first two movies in the series.
Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martin) are getting married, and they are madly, crazy in love. The thing is, when Uncle Victor (Emilio Mencheta) shows up at their wedding, he's sporting a fresh bite on his hand from a dog he was dealing with at his work. "It looked dead," he says, and right away, there's a ticking clock. The ceremony is fine, but once people arrive at the reception, Uncle Victor starts to get worse, and it's just a matter of time before all hell breaks loose.
Both Dolera and Martin are well-cast as the leads here, and most of the movie deals with the two of them trying to reunite in the midst of this crazy monster apocalypse that unfolds. We learn a little more about the nature of the "[REC] 3" creatures this time, but I think the more we learn about them, the less effective they are. I liked the notion that there was some ambiguity to them in the first film. By now, Plaza and his co-writer Louiso Berdejo have committed whole-heartedly to the idea that religious iconography has power over the infected, and the more Catholicism they drag in, the less scary it is to me.
For the most part, the humor in this one and the gleeful way gore is handled undermine any serious sense of scares, but there is an exuberant energy to the film that I found engaging. It doesn't hurt that Leticia Dolera is stunningly beautiful, so spending big chunks of the film with her is a painless proposition. Still, I acknowledge that many horror fans took the first two films very seriously, and this sort of mid-franchise shift in tone might throw them. I know that as a fan of the first "Evil Dead," I appreciated the introduction of jet-black humor into the second film, but I felt like the third film was just a Three Stooges movie, broad and silly and without a single genuine scare. That bothered me, and to this day, I have trouble with "Army Of Darkness," no matter how many people like it.
"[REC] 3" may not be the film that fans of the series expect or even want, but taken on its own terms, it is an endearingly frantic film from someone who has obviously got a huge affection for early gory Peter Jackson films. It is a lot of fun, and I hope that as long as they keep making films in the "[REC]" series, they remember to reinvent the notion of what that series is.
"[REC] 3" arrives on VOD August 3 and in theaters September 7 courtesy of Magnet/Magnolia.