Footage Lost and Found, by Rita Cannon
There’s a moment in almost every “found footage” movie when someone turns to our camera-clutching protagonist and demands to know why they’re still filming. It’s a valid question. If I happened to be taping my nephew’s communion or something when zombies/aliens/ghosts/a serial killer burst in and started laying waste to the flock, would I make an attempt to document what was happening? At first, yeah, I probably would. But as soon as it seems like my safety depended on having two free hands, I would give up and ditch the damn camera. No one in found footage movies does this – they just keep rolling. If pressed, they’ll insist that “people will want to know what happened.” They might even offer a piece of dime store self-analysis and explain that, sometimes, it’s easier to handle trauma when there’s an electronic buffer between you and the events at hand. The person asking might roll their eyes at this explanation, but they accept it, and let the filming continue. If you’ve ever wished that this now perfunctory moment would end with the hero being told to go fuck themselves and their camera getting smashed on the ground, then you and I have a lot in common, and you’ll probably be as delighted as I was when this precise thing happens about fifteen minutes into [REC] 3: Genesis.
[REC] 3 is, as its title suggests, the third installment in a series of Spanish zombie films (the original [REC] was remade in the States as Quarantine in 2008). Both it and [REC] 2 are straight-ahead found footage, released as the subgenre was cresting – post-Blair Witch Project, pre-Paranormal Activity, with Cloverfield showing up in between. In the intervening years, found footage went from being fresh and exciting to ubiquitous and slightly tiresome. The makers of the [REC] know this, which is why they dispense with the framing device so quickly. Once its freed from the shackles of realism, it gets pretty crazy and fun.
The site of the outbreak is the wedding of Koldo (Diego Martín) and Clara (Leticia Dolera), a bright-eyed, attractive couple. Their nuptials go awry when Koldo’s uncle, who arrived at the wedding bearing a gross-looking bite from a suspicious-sounding dog, suddenly erupts into full-blown flesh-eating in the middle of their reception. Soon the people he bit are biting other people, and the beginnings of a zombie apocalypse are afoot. Koldo and Clara are separated in the ensuing mayhem, and spend the rest of film battling the undead as they find their way back to each other.
[REC] 3 is a departure from the first two films in tone as well as form. The first and second films were serious horror flicks, and while the third installment is certainly packed with legitimate scares, eerie imagery, and over-the-top gore, it isn’t the only note being hit. What I’m about to say will sound like blasphemy to some people, but I think [REC] 3‘s closest relation in this way might be Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. This movie doesn’t negotiate its shifts in tone quite as nimbly as Wright’s did, but its blend of absurd humor, bloody thrills, and genuine human emotion took me by surprise, and I mean that in a good way. It tweaks the typical zombie mythology in some interesting ways that I hadn’t seen before. It even pokes fun at its own mockumentary origins in the form of a self-important wedding videographer who won’t stop talking about cinema verité. While fans of the [REC] series may feel frustrated by the abandonment of what was once its central conceit, anyone willing to get on board with the off-kilter weirdness of [REC] 3: Genesis will be rewarded with a witty spin on the modern zombie movie.