Horror at SXSW: '[REC] 3: Genesis' Asks, How Far Can You Break From Franchise Staples?

Horror at SXSW: '[REC] 3: Genesis' Asks, How Far Can You Break From Franchise Staples?

Mar 11, 2012

The [REC] franchise offers diminishing returns in the scare department, but that's okay. That's typical of most horror franchises, but it's particularly true of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's found footage series documenting a violent viral outbreak in Spain. Granted, when the first film is as inventive and nerve-rattling as [REC], any sequel is bound to be less effective, but part of the series' dwindling frights comes from an active effort to keep changing the game. And the third film in the series, properly titled [REC] 3: Genesis, changes the game in such fundamental ways it brings up an interesting question: How far can a franchise deviate from the conceit that originally defined it?

The first film was a single-camera found footage movie (before that niche was all the rage) that used its style to tap into increasing levels of paranoia, claustrophobia and sheer terror. The second did exactly what a sequel should do: Took the formula, dialed it up a notch with the introduction of several cameras mounted on the helmets of SWAT team members, and tweaked it with enough new elements to transform it from a pure horror movie to an action-horror-survival movie (and it even included an inspired new twist on the cause of the zombie outbreak). Genesis starts out as another found footage movie with multiple cameras, this time cutting into the POV of cameras at a large wedding, but abandons it entirely a short while later and becomes an otherwise traditional zombie movie.

This didn't bother me. It seemed a natural progression for the franchise, the movie finds a clever and playful way to make the break from found footage, and the whole story just wouldn't have made sense had it stayed found footage. There are only so many movies - and this extends beyond the walls of this small but impressive Spanish franchise - that can play the, "We've got to document everything, people have a right to know card!" before the audience rolls their eyes, because, realistically, if people's guts hit the fan in a big, big way (and they do at the wedding here), every single cameraman is going to drop their gear and fight two-handed for their lives.

But as much as I enjoyed Genesis for its mid-outbreak romance story and light-hearted setups and payoffs, I've talked to a number of friends who not only actively disliked what it did, but felt a sort of betrayal. And while I don't agree, in a way, I sympathize. Not only does Genesis break tonally from the first two films, but it breaks structurally, too. Those changes may seem small, but they're systemic. This isn't using a new mold for Michael Myer's mask or changing the number of blades on Freddy Krueger's glove; the alterations are game changers, and effective ones at that. If for some weird reason you missed everything leading up to the title card in the film, most fans probably wouldn't even recognize that they're watching a [REC] sequel. They'd just think it was yet another zombie scenario with a few quirks in it. That's kind of a big deal.

I'm okay with the break because I think of it this way: If the [REC] series were any other moderately successful, American horror franchise, Genesis would be the first straight-to-video sequel. And I'm cool with that. I'm down for not wanting to just tread in the same shallow waters, to risk a plunge into the deep end just to see how it goes. I do wish said metaphorical plunge had been a bit more calculated. I wish it wasn't so quick to drive up its body count with the routine and weightless disposal of side characters after they serve important functions in the story. But, that's also how most straight-to-video sequels operate. They deliver on the genre basics, and if they do it with just the right amount of flare, they can be entertaining despite their predictable nature.

Having said that, if you require a [REC] sequel to not just deliver on the genre basics, but to deliver on the franchise basics, you're going to be pissed off. It'd be like if Paranormal Activity 4 not only abandoned its surveillance style, but cast a bunch of CW actors and became a generic haunted house movie. Or if the next inevitable Saw sequel didn't have any traps in it. Sure, different does not automatically equal bad, but there's something to be said for franchise consistency. I appreciate the deviation in [REC] 3: Genesis, but I understand why others don't.

Note: It's unclear if the above is a fan made poster or an offical poster. I'm guessing it's an official viral poster considering that particular image of the main character's face doesn't appear to have been released for fans to even play with yet. Whatever the case may be, it reflects the tonal break from the franchise surprisingly well.

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