Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out). Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid. I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop). This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).
It is the happiest day of Koldo and Clara’s lives as they celebrate their nuptials with a lavish wedding reception for a huge crowd of friends and family. Unfortunately, one of the guests has brought more than just a wedding present – he’s infected with a deadly virus that turns its victims into flesh eating zombies! In the chaos that’s unleashed Koldo and Clara are separated, beginning a desperate fight to reunite the lovers.
Funny, Scary, Bloody, Fun.
[Rec] 3 is a radical departure both in terms of format and style from the previous films in the series, so there are bound to be some strong feelings from fans of the franchise on this one. Now, I am a big fan of the first [Rec], it scared the hell out of me, so when I heard that the latest installment in the series was a comedy, I was wary. That said, [Rec] 3 really surprised me, not only for how much I liked it, but for how scary it was.
First, I should talk a little about what makes [Rec] 3 so different from its predecessors. In spite of being the third installment in the series, [Rec] 3 doesn’t pick up the storyline from the first two films, although it is set during the same zombie outbreak (it’s not a prequel either, don’t let the ‘genesis’ in the title fool you). You definitely don’t need to have seen the first two films to enjoy this one, but [Rec] 3 does add to the mythology of the franchise’s zombies (which is a smart move, making the film accessible to newcomers and rewarding for fans). The biggest change is in format and tone. While [Rec] 3 begins in traditional ‘found footage’ mode (as with the previous two films), once ‘the zombies hit the fan’ it switches gears from first person to third person POV in dramatic fashion. Given that writer/director Paco Plaza uses the opportunity to poke some fun at the conceits of the found footage sub-genre, I get the impression he was feeling a little constrained by it as a storyteller. The first [Rec] films, while they have their humor, are pretty serious affairs (deadly serious). [Rec] 3 on the other hand, proudly flies the tongue-in-cheek banner, with plenty of laughs aimed at lampooning all the foibles of modern day wedding ceremonies (the choreographed bride and groom dance, family relations, the politics of wedding invites) and over the top kills.
As funny as the movie is though, it’s not a straight ‘zomedy’ like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland either (where much of the humor comes from the zombies themselves). The zombies in [Rec] 3 are (like its predecessors) truly scary. For every scene I laughed out loud, there was a jump scare or tension filled chase that had me gripping the armrest. That weird mix of laughs and scares carries on the tradition of films like The Evil Dead and Return of the Living Dead (which as a kid I didn’t realize was a comedy at all). Perhaps it’s better to classify [Rec] 3 not as a horror/comedy, but as a horror and a comedy.
The action is bloody and well executed and, I have to be honest, as much as I like the immersion of found footage, I didn’t miss the shaky cam at all when the screen was filled with nice big shots and fantastic set-pieces. Plus, seeing wide eyed Leticia Dolera as the blood spattered bride with a chainsaw giving it good to the undead (in heels no less) is worth the price of admission (and got a suitable cheer from the crowd at TAD).
In between the blood and chuckles there’s also a love story lurking in [Rec] 3. Apocalypse movies, especially zombie ones, have a tendency towards cynicism (what with them being about how our society and morals are built on a house of cards). Maybe that’s why I found the unabashed romantic elements of [Rec] 3 refreshing and sweet – even parts that in another light would have been a major downer.
[Rec] 3 is recommended, and would make a great double bill with Return of the Living Dead for a night of light hearted Halloween viewing. Die-hard fans of the first two [Rec] films will have a problem with [Rec] 3 if they are looking for more of the same. However, if they watch with an open mind and are willing to let the shaky cam go, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun this latest installment is.
The undead of the [Rec] series are very different from the monsters of traditional zombie films. Although they spread their plague through biting, implying some kind of biological virus, they trace their origin to a supernatural source, a victim of infernal possession. This brings the zombies of [Rec] 3 more in line with the undead of D&D than any movie I have seen in a long time, and I have to admit that gave them an undeniable appeal. There is even a scene in the movie where a priest ‘turns’ the zombies using prayer (for all intents and purposes) so, at a minimum, gamers get to watch the Cleric’s signature ability on the big screen.
The explicit link between the demonic and the undead in [Rec] 3 got me thinking. In most folklore, demons, vampires, ghouls and ghosts are all a part of what could be called the ‘spirit world’. I really like the flavor of having a close relationship between that group of monsters (call it spooky), even though as a DM I think I have been moving farther and farther away from it over the years (subconsciously encouraged by later editions’ emphasis on monster ‘types’). That’s a shame, because the classic D&D cosmology (pre-4e ‘great wheel’) can totally support it: the spirits of the departed move to the outer planes where they are eventually fashioned into fledgling demons and devils, sent back to the Prime Material to torment and haunt the living (while those that fail to move on become trapped on the Prime as undead). It’s definitely an approach I will use the next time I run encounters that centre on possession (is it a ghost or shadow demon’s use of magic jar?), haunted houses (the lair of a vampire or bone devil?), or cemeteries (stalked by a pack of ghouls or grave oozing lemures?). It helps that in most editions of the game demons and devils can be turned like the undead (either explicitly in the turning rules or through the application of the right feats).
[Rec] 3’s priest turns the zombies in a very creative way that I’m sure any Cleric player will be jealous of. Given the limited selection of channelling feats in the Pathfinder edition of D&D, I thought I would add a few in the spirit of [Rec] 3.
You can unerringly throw your holy symbol to affect creatures with your channelled energy across the battlefield.
Prerequisite: Ability to channel energy.
Benefit: When you channel energy, you can choose to center the burst on a space up to 50 ft. away that you have line of sight and effect to instead of on yourself. Use of this feat does not return the holy symbol to your hand, it must be retrieved normally.
Your practice channeling energy makes the results more predictable and dependable.
Prerequisite: Channel energy 4d6.
Benefit: When you channel energy to heal or inflict damage, you may reroll any result of 1 of your channel energy’s healing or damage dice. You must keep the result of the reroll, even if it is another 1.
You can concentrate the power of your channel energy to affect a larger area.
Prerequisite: Ability to channel energy.
Benefit: When you channel energy, you can expend 2 of your daily uses of that ability to create a 60-foot radius burst instead of a 30-foot radius burst.