REC 3: Genesis (2011) Movie Review: 'Til Demonic Possession Do You Part
After watching all of the films in the REC franchise so far, I've come to this conclusion: The ending for the first movie in 2007 was that film's "twist" ending. Period. I don't think that the film's creators had any plans to explore that ending in any greater detail, let alone build a franchise around it. Yet a franchise is what REC started and as of the latest entry, REC 3: Genesis, fans are no closer to learning anything more about the larger significance of the ending of the first film within the REC universe.
To be sure, REC 3 is not a bad horror film; its director Paco Plaza has a lot of talent and it shows in many sequences of this sequel. But even though REC 3 is a more polished movie than its predecessor REC 2 (2009), it still is a weak sequel in terms of advancing the plot that was started in the first movie. Read on for my complete review. Note: If you haven't seen REC yet but would like to, skip this review now and come back later because this review will spoil the ending of that movie for you.
REC 3 is takes place on the wedding day of a young couple, Koldo (Diego Martin) and Clara (Leticia Dolera). Everything appears to be perfect on this day of holy matrimony, except for one of the guests who arrives with a peculiar injury that he sustained just before the ceremony. As the wedding ends and the reception festivities begin, the guest's injury erupts into a vicious epidemic that threatens to engulf everyone in its path.
As a sequel, so much goes wrong here--even its title is a misnomer. The term "REC" suggests "record", which calls attention to the found footage style of the first two movies, but REC 3 only features found footage-style cinematography for the first third of the movie and the rest is shot like a regular feature. The subtitle "Genesis" suggests to REC fans that the second sequel might reveal something significant about Niña Medeiros, patient zero of the demonic possession epidemic first seen in REC. It doesn't, and the real meaning of the word "Genesis" within the narrative of REC 3 will leave fans disappointed. The connections between REC 3 and the other two movies are negligible, so much so that it almost feels like REC 3 is a sequel-in-name-only. Indeed, REC 3 does not live up to the description provided on IMDB, which states: "In a clever twist that draws together the plots of the first two movies, this third part of the saga also works as a decoder to uncover information hidden in the first two films and leaves the door open for the final installment, the future REC 4: Apocalypse."
So, with REC 3 failing as a sequel, how does it fare as a horror movie? Better than you'd expect, but still it falls short where it counts. Using a wedding reception as the site of a gory outbreak leads to some unique scenes and situations. Plaza sets up a few good scares and keeps the pace running smoothly; he also throws in plenty of gory gags that will remind horror buffs of splatstick classics such as Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Dead Alive (1992). Yet Plaza's turn towards humor after the previous two films, which were very serious in their portrayal of horror, indicates a reluctance of sorts on his part. Such reluctance dovetails with the ongoing problem of the REC franchise's portrayal of victims of the demonic possession, victims who behave more like zombies than anything else. Sure, the reflection of the victims in mirrors and other reflective surfaces show their true demonic nature, they refuse to set foot in churches and they stop dead in their tracks whenever someone quotes Bible verses, but otherwise the victims are indistinguishable from most movie zombies. If the victims acted more like they were possessed by demons and less like zombies, they'd probably be much scarier.
The demonic possession/zombie outbreak quandary in the REC franchise brings me back to the beginning of this review. Plaza and his co-director Jaume Balagueró set up the situation in REC to seem like a zombie outbreak (particularly a zombie outbreak similar to the one seen in 2002's 28 Days Later) but then threw in a twist ending that revealed the cause of the outbreak to be a communicable form of demonic possession. Yet with this narrative rule established in the first movie, REC 3 doesn't get much mileage out of it. After all, if someone is possessed by a demon, a non-corporeal embodiment of pure evil, then the victim should torment, torture and do other evil, vile things while under the control of the demon. A demonic outbreak on their wedding day should be an unrelenting nightmare for Koldo and Clara, since demons possess their family and friends--people who are the closest to the couple and could thus psychologically abuse them in grizzly, twisted ways. That doesn't happen, so instead we get the usual zombie high jinks: blood-gushing cannibalism, dismemberment, disemboweling and decapitation. Ho-hum.
There was a lot that I didn't like about the first sequel, REC 2 (read my review of that film here). One of the worst things that it did was to bring up a very interesting and revealing plot point early in story--that the priest who was assigned by the Vatican to treat Medeiros also infected children with the demonic possession while searching for a cure--and then ignoring it for the rest of the film. That thread alone could have been expanded for the plot for REC 3, tracking the Medeiros case from its beginnings in Portugal to its arrival in Spain and its subsequent involvement of child test subjects. This plot could also have be used by Plaza and Balagueró to provide metaphorical commentary about the ongoing child abuse scandal within the Catholic Church and/or the Vatican's reinstatement of the dubious practice of exorcism in contemporary society. It could be that Plaza and Balagueró never considered such possibilities for their franchise, or they did but decided against doing so to avoid courting controversy. Nevertheless, the refusal to take the REC franchise to darker, uglier places makes its sequels feel like increasingly bashful continuations of the bold REC. With that in mind, I'm guessing that the upcoming REC 4: Apocalypse will not be nearly as apocalyptic as its title wants you to believe.
Between its splatstick sense of humor and well executed but otherwise unexceptional demon/zombie gore, REC 3 feels less like a sequel to REC and more like a sequel to Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985). In fact, with some minor edits and some bad English dubbing, REC 3 could be re-titled as Demons: Rebirth and put into a DVD box set with Demons and Demons 2 (1986) and few would be the wiser for it. If you view REC 3 with that in mind, you might enjoy it; if not, expect to be disappointed.