Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How Do You Say 'Bridezilla' In Spanish?

Although it doesn't feel quite as original today, 2007's REC made a well-deserved splash on the genre world at the time of its debut, less for its then-new concept (found footage fast running zombies in a quarantined apartment) than for the simple fact that it was a well-made, well-acted, effectively staged and ultimately scary little movie. Its sequel proved to be equally ambitious, especially in expanding the mysterious nature of its viral-infused cannibal killers and finding fresh ideas to keep the occasionally nauseating first-person camerawork working within the context of its story.

While REC and REC2 were co-directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, REC3 sees a split, with Plaza (he the man behind the wonderfully fresh The Christmas Tale from the 6 Films To Keep You Awake series) taking solo reins.

Apparently, he's the funny one.

Quick Plot: Koldo and Clara are enjoying a very loving, slightly tacky wedding on the Spanish countryside. Among the guests is Koldo's genial uncle Victor wearing a conspicuous bandage over his wrist. When asked about his wound, he innocently explains that he was bit by a dog at a veterinarian's office, a red flag alert for anyone who's watched the first two films in this franchise.

After the cake is cut (with a conveniently intimidating samurai sword no less), the guests notice the seemingly drunk Victor hanging over a bannister on the second floor. When he topples over, they rush to his aide only to, you know, become immediate victims of a fast moving zombie rabies possession virus.

Our story then divides itself between our bride and groom, who are frantically separated in the chaos on the quickly bloodening dance floor. Both vow to find one another again, especially following the not at all expected revelation that Clara is expecting.

If you have seen the first two REC films (which surprisingly, you don't actually need to do to enjoy this one) there are certain series tropes you've probably come to expect. Most notably would be the found footage style that defined the first film and was utilized with some creative tricks in its sequel. The biggest gripe from many a viewer regarding REC3 will probably come here. While the first twenty or so minutes are shown to us--quite effectively and very humorously--through the lens of a wedding guest's camera, the film abruptly abandons this style when the real action kicks in. Following that, we get spurts of other media--night vision mode on a camcorder, security footage in black and white--but ultimately, the bulk of REC3 is filmed in a standard manner.

I am okay with this.

Narratively, it's a cheat. Why bother giving us a wedding guest's POV if you have no plans to follow through with it? you might ask. Well, says I, mostly to spare your audience a 50 minute headache and lingering sense of nausea. I've come around on found footage and admit that it now defines some of this generation's best independent horror cinema, but at the same time, I still find it, on a physical level, rather unpleasant to sit through. Like District 9, REC3 breaks its own rule with no real excuse but when the benefit lies in the viewer, how can you really complain?

The other major shift comes in the general tone, which is almost all-out horror comedy. Director Plaza never hesitates to give us heartfelt deaths or moments of genuine tragedy, but most of the action is done with a wink. The film doesn't quite cross Evil Dead 2 lines of bonkers, but it flirts with the barrier in a fresh and fun way. It's both tense and gross when a wedding guest starts chewing on a bridesmaid's face, but when you throw in a drunk man dressed as a knockoff version of SpongeBob Squarepants wielding a shotgun, you can't not laugh at the absurdity. 

I'm not sure that Plaza perfectly balances the gruesome violence with the humor, but the result is ultimately a truly enjoyable 80 minutes of high energy zombie fun. Grounding it all is the sweet central romance that manages to keep us strongly invested in the leads' fates.

High Points
It's always nice to see a strong female lead in a horror film, and Leticia Doler's Clara is a pleasantly pro-active (and impressively resourceful) surprise

As much as REC3 feels a tad more comedy than horror, it still manages to produce some genuinely unnerving moments, including the beyond tragic fate of a shuttle bus captured in hauntingly black and white security footage

Low Points
The aforementioned found footage switcharoo should have been a tad more justified

The Jury's Out
I'm sure I wasn't alone in cheering on Clara as she slashed at her now bloodied wedding gown with a kickass chainsaw. It's a wonderful moment that yields a grand poster-ready sight. But aside from it referencing Alice's asymmetrical red number in the first Resident Evil film, is there any reason she wouldn't circulate that cut for full mobility?

Lessons Learned
When choosing your wedding venue, be sure to consider such important factors as its number of decorative armored knights

Fire hoses are the most versatile of all zombie hunting/escaping weapons

The term 'MILF' transcends language barriers

While REC can nudge its way onto the always arguable lists of best modern horror films, REC3 will probably be the one I and other movie fans revisit more. This isn't a great genre film, but it has so much fun with itself that by the end, I couldn't resist it. Don't expect the frantic pacing and horror of its predecessors, but check it out when you're in the mood for lighter (but equally bloody) fare.

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