The latest sequel to the innovative 2007 Spanish horror movie [REC] has two modes: playfully poking viewers with in-jokes and series references, and slathering them with gore and over-the-top humor. But neither mode is as satisfying as [REC] and the 2009 sequel, [REC] 2, which played the same ideas straight, collectively presenting an eerie two-part story without attempting to jolly its audience along. [REC] and [REC] 2 used the usual limits of faux found footage—low image quality, erratic camera movement, deliberately wonky framing, etc.—to heighten tension and obscure the threats within an apartment building infested with a particularly improbable form of zombie virus. [REC]3: Genesis starts out in the same shakycam found-footage mode, as viewers follow the wedding preliminaries for happy couple Leticia Dolera and Diego Martín through the lens of young relative Àlex Monner. Then it switches to the Steadicam-rig POV of a professional wedding photographer, who mocks Monner’s cheap, jerky handheld on the audience’s behalf. It’s one of many points where viewers are meant to be in on the joke, but it’s hard to maintain dread while the filmmakers are so obviously grinning at their own cleverness.
Director Paco Plaza (one of the duo behind the first two films; his partner Jaume Balagueró is credited as creative producer) goes back to the found-footage idea after that, with security-cam images and a patchy amalgam of handhelds wielded by wedding guests, but eventually drops the pretense entirely in favor of another audience-elbowing meta-moment that gives way to conventional camerawork. The changeover happens after a wedding guest, bitten by the infected dog that was a loose plot thread in [REC], sets off a wave of bloody violence that separates Dolera and Martín. They spend much of the film trying to reunite, through a zombie breakout with a staggering body count and a consciously ridiculous tinge that features Martín donning medieval armor for protection, and Dolera going Bridezilla on her tormentors with a chainsaw, yelling “It’s my day!”
But where the first two films maintained a breathless tone and found new ground in the zombie genre by linking a physical virus to demonic possession, [REC]3: Genesis runs out of ideas early, and becomes a slogging massacre spiked with callbacks and visual gags. (The latter includes a children’s entertainer in a woefully lame homemade “SpongeJohn” costume, designed to save him from SpongeBob SquarePants copyright-infringement claims; when the killing starts, he has to keep wearing it because he’s naked underneath.) What flavor it does have comes from references to the first films, with the series’ ultimate antagonist popping up in mirrors, and a priest finding religious significance in all the mayhem. But none of the references are explained for newcomers, nor do they pay off in any way for series vets; they’re apparently just setup for a planned series finale, [REC] Apocalypse. Plaza has a strong eye for composition and compelling images, in either grainy-handheld or crystalline high-tech mode, and the actors throw themselves into their silly emoting. But where [REC] sought to redefine zombie horror and found-footage films, [REC]3is a camp follower, content to competently do what others have done, and periodically tap viewers on the shoulder and remind them of a better film they could be watching instead.