I sometimes forget just how good the [REC] series has been. Though a certain studio - *cough*SONY SUCKS*cough* - tried to ruin the first film for us (by buying it, shelving it, and releasing their own remake first), the original film's found-footage meets 28 Days Later concept would have rivaled Paranormal Activity in popularity had it just been a) released and b) in English. Unfortunately, us Americans can't be trusted with nice things, and [REC] and its terrific sequel [REC] 2 have been left for most Yankees to find on DVD.
A lot of film franchises go through some addition as they go on, but it's the subtractions from the equation that make [REC] 3: Genesis such a unique direction for the series. There are fundamental changes - Sony's no longer involved and the awesome Magnet Releasing is distributing the film, and co-director of the first two films Jaume Balaguero has left director duties to counterpart Paco Plaza - but the biggest change is that the found footage gimmick (and the quarantined apartment complex) from the first two films is just a memory.
The change in pace that is [REC] 3 is a surprising follow up to the second film, but Plaza's film seems comfortable being a parallel story to the events of its predecessors. There's only a minor tie in to the first film, as one of the guests at a wedding is connected to the outbreak we saw there, but the aggressive and frantic zombie-esque aggressors from those films return with a vengeance. The twist ending from the second film is part of this film's narrative - and Plaza finds some clever ways to remind us just what the creatures are - but the story is completely new and focused mostly on the newly married couple - Clara and Koldo - who find themselves in the middle of the carnage.
Without the handheld camera viewpoint for most of the film and with a more cinematic approach, [REC] 3 does seem to lose some of the tension of its predecessors. This film is not "in your face" as much as its parents were, but the pace doesn't suffer. Instead, Plaza's new direction mixes the survival aspects of classic zombie films with some gory humor, and the film plays like more lighthearted films like Night of the Demons or The Return of the Living Dead when it does let up on the gas. There is still plenty of blood spewed, but Plaza finds ways to move between dramatic and comedic splatter to keep the film moving. The split between comedy and seriousness is another new turn in the series, but neither side of that equation overwhelms the other and effects the bigger picture.
With the added focus on gore and the romantic side of the script, the film is set up perfectly for Leticia Dolera (who stars as Clara) to shine, and she takes advantage of the opportunity. Confined to a wedding dress and exceedingly runny makeup for the duration of the film, the role primarily requires Dolera to look the part of a woman who's fighting for her future, and Dolera does not miss a beat. The diminutive actress handles herself very well throughout the film, and horror fans will surely enjoy her ability to handle a chainsaw. The rest of the cast is made up of folks with a similar willingness to face the gory side of the film with their tongue in cheek, which leads to Clara standing up as a somewhat comic heroine in a horror film with a welcome slapstick edge.
The changing pace is probably the biggest obstacle to overcome with [REC] 3, and fans of the series who expect more of the same might find the tone to be too much to bear. I do think the film feels slight in comparison to the first two films, but it's still a lot of fun to watch and a nice new twist on the mythology these filmmakers have created. With Clara and Koldo's plight as the primary focus the film feels a little like a fan fiction tale, but the violent action and the unforgiving shocks fit the series well. It's different, but I'd recommend it alongside the first two films to anyone who wants to see something special in the modern horror scene. And, with [REC] Apocalypse in production - and promising to reconnect with the ending of [REC] 2 - I have a feeling that there's more great horror that will be rolling out of Spain in the near future.