You know that old adage, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”? Well, horror filmmaker Paco Plaza doesn’t subscribe to that belief.
The Spaniard from Valencia first earned respect and adoration from genres audiences worldwide back in 2007 with the ferocious and altogether brilliant found-footage zombie flick [REC]. Remade here in the states as Quarantine, [REC] (co-written and co-directed by Jaume Balaugeró) remains the best of all the first-person POV horror movies released in recent years, if not of all time. It’s much more all-around satisfying than The Blair Witch Project, depicting the escalating nightmare experienced by a news reporter, her cameraman, firefighters, and scared tenants in a locked-down Barcelona apartment building as a viral infection rapidly spreads.
Naturally, the film’s success merited a sequel. With both Plaza and Balagueró still in tow, 2009’s [REC] 2, also shot as found-footage and beginning immediately after [REC] ends, in the same location, the second installment follows in the tradition of James Cameron’s Aliens: It expands upon its predecessor’s mythology while also amplifying the action to more frantic and gorier degrees.
After a few weeks of OnDemand availability, [REC] 3: Genesis officially opened in theaters yesterday, but [REC] fans are in for a surprise: Instead of full-blown found-footage, it’s largely a traditional, silly, and over-the-top horror-comedy. Overseen by Plaza (Balagueró will individually direct the forthcoming [REC] 4: Apocalypse), [REC] 3: Genesis opens as a groom's younger brother videotapes a rather pleasant wedding, but once the groom’s uncle starts coughing up blood, all hell breaks loose. From there, attendees fight for their lives against ravenous, hideous ghouls with everything from medieval armor to, in the bride’s (the gorgeous Letitica Dolera) case, a chainsaw.
In the spirit of the genre’s craziest and most enjoyable horror-comedies, [REC] 3: Genesis is the work of a director who’s more than happy to balance the absurd (there’s a hilarious running joke about SpongeBob SquarePants) with the grotesque (in one particularly gnarly scene, the bride saws one zombie’s head in half). Complex chatted with Plaza about switching gears away from found-footage, the advantages of genre storytelling, and the comedic fodder supplied by weddings.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Why did you and Jaume Balagueró decide to each direct a [REC] sequel individually?
What happened is that we had been working together for about four or five years, and when the producers said that they wanted to make two more [REC] films, on one hand we didn’t want to step away and let someone else be in charge of it, but we didn’t want to be involved in it for another four years. So we said, “OK, we will direct each film but we’ll each do one, that way we can still work on our own personal projects and we’ll each produce the other’s [REC] film.”
So Jaume was heavily involved with this film?
The relationship we have, and we’re doing it the same for his [REC] film, is that we read each other’s script, give notes, and I will go to his shooting for a few days like he did to mine. Then we sit down in the editing room together. It’s not very different from what’s happened in the rest of our careers. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years now, and everything that we’ve each worked on in the past, the other one has been around for a friendly second opinion.
When you guys made the first [REC] film, did you already have this longer, sequel-ready mythology planned out?
We thought it was going to be just one flick—we didn’t know that it was going to have a sequel. We didn’t expect anything from the film. So the mythology was just set up for that one film; we wanted to make a classic zombie film but one that has this twist of a supernatural, evil component, but that was just for one film.
What happened was, when [REC] was released, and we were traveling all around with the film, people were reacting very well and talking about it, and so many people would come up to us and say, “Are you going to shoot a sequel?” At the beginning, we quickly said, “No, no!” But then we said, “Why not?” Because we had a lot of fun and we felt that there was still a lot to explore within that universe of evil, possessed zombies.
In the first film, the religious aspects were very subtle, but then they became a huge part of [REC] 2, and it’s prominent in [REC] 3: Genesis.
When you make a horror film, if it’s about a classic creature, whether it’s vampires, werewolves, or zombies, I think what you have to do is remain very faithful to the tradition that you inherit from your predecessors. But, at the same time, you need to add something to that tradition. In this case, we wanted to have that paranormal twist we haven’t seen before in a zombie film, to have this paranormal, religious explanation for the infection. We thought that was a cool twist.
Genre is the best way to talk about the world around you. For instance, I always say that, for me, Malcolm X and X-Men is just the same story about someone who is rejected because he is different. I think what allows you to talk in a more poetic way is the fantasy; using supernatural rules allows you, once you’re separated from reality, to get deeper into the soul of what you’re explaining.
In [REC] 3: Genesis, the religious ideas are present but, ultimately, it’s much more about the horror-comedy vibe, and it’s really funny. Do you have a big appreciation for horror-comedies?
Something that, for me as a filmgoer, is important is that, more and more we go to the theater to see films that give us exactly what we expect from them. You have seen so many trailers in the past month and all of the information is there on the Internet, so that when it’s time to see the actual movie, you feel like you’ve already seen the film. You know exactly what it’s going to deliver; you know what it’s about and what you’re going to find.
I think it’s much more interesting to do something different. Cinema is a form of art, and it must be about taking risks, doing something different, and not trying to replicate a formula all over again. I’m very proud of this film because, if anyone wants to watch a horror film shot in a handheld camera style and set inside a claustrophobic building, we’ve done a couple of those—you can stay home, take those Blu-rays out, and watch them. But if you go to a theater, I think it’s our duty to do something extra, something different.
For me, that was one of the reasons to shoot this film: It wasn’t about trying to do the same thing all over again.
There’s a history within the horror genre of third movies in a franchise totally deviating from what’s come before them, with Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness and Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which had nothing to do with Michael Myers. Were those films in your mind as you were coming up with the fresh take for [REC] 3: Genesis?
Yeah, and I really appreciate that you recalled Army of Darkness. It’s one of my favorite movies ever. I remember, when I went to the theater to watch it, it blew my mind. It was something far beyond my expectations, something that I wasn’t ready for, and that’s something that moved me. That made it an interesting film and an interesting experience; I went to the theater wanting to see another Evil Dead film and it wasn’t what I expected.
The spirit of the [REC] series has always been very playful and intended to give a roller coaster feeling—a thing you go to experience and have fun with. We wanted to do that again but in a very different way. The humor has been there from the beginning; in the first one, for instance, there is some humor, and the second one is the darker one, like in every horror series.
The idea behind setting a found-footage movie—or, in this case, one that starts off as found-footage but then deviates from that—at a wedding is perfect, since it immediately justifies why the camera is being used. Is it true that you guys were actually considering setting [REC] 2 at a wedding at one point?
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. In fact, when we were editing the first one, our editor came up with that idea, and we all felt it was a whole world of opportunities for having funny characters, like the drunken uncle and the guy who chases girls. One of the things that’s been fun for me with this film is that I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, “I have an uncle like the one in the film!” We all have that uncle who drinks too much at weddings. [Laughs.]
A wedding is really intriguing to me. There are a lot of people at a wedding who don’t really want to be there, but they go because they’re supposed to go there. The bride and groom end up inviting a lot of people whom they don’t really want to share their happiness with, but they have to invite them because of social conventions. In a way, that made the idea really exciting to me.
Weddings are pure theater: It’s a ritual, and you have the same characters in every wedding. It’s something like a performance, and people are dressed in a funny way. The bride is like a superhero with this white dress, and I definitely wanted to watch a beautiful bride with a chainsaw. [Laughs.] I think it’s the perfect compliment for a girl.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)