Directed by: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert, Vicente Gil, Martha Carbonell, Carlos Vicente, María Teresa Ortega, Manuel Bronchud, Akemi Goto, Chen Min Kao, Maria Lanau, Claudia Silva
(out of 4)
[REC] is a Spanish thriller that is a cross between the current hand-held shooting style of filmmaking (The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield) and the running zombie genre (28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Dawn of the Dead remake). I’m not sure, but I think I may be coming around to enjoying the point-of-view cam, or perhaps it’s just that [REC]‘s story and pacing were good enough to keep me involved and amused most of the time. With a sequel already out, in addition to the American remake (Quarantine), and an upcoming bout of American sequelitis (Quarantine 2, Paranormal Activity 2), I think I can safely say that “reality horror” has firmly established itself as a filmmaking style to be reckoned with (as box office returns prove). Whether it’s just a fad that will fizzle out (cough-3D-cough) remains to be seen, but for now I think it will have a decent lifespan as long as filmmakers don’t treat it as a gimmick, and consider it as simply another method to use in service of telling a good story. From the looks of things, the creators of [REC] have figured this part out.
The movie begins with a succession of practice takes as TV reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) works on her introduction, while her trusty cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso, technically the cinematographer, since the entire movie will be seen from his camera’s point of view) helps film a segment for their TV show set in Barcelona entitled “While You’re Asleep.” This week’s show is to give viewers at home a look into the lives of local firefighters, whose jobs are rather monotonous as they eat, sleep, and wait for a call that may be as innocuous as getting a cat out of a tree. After Angela is seen fretting about her hair, profile, and the boredom of their current assignment (“Pablo, if this is a pain in the ass, just cut it. I don’t want to waste the tape.”), the firehouse finally gets a call about some woman screaming in her apartment. Angela follows the firemen and policemen inside the building, with Pablo filming, and gives some on-the-spot interviews to the building’s residents. Things turn ugly as the screaming woman, drenched in blood, bites a policeman, followed by the sudden appearance of an army of cops and health inspectors who quarantine and seal off the entire building. No information is given to those trapped inside, but it’s obvious that there’s some strange viral outbreak afoot, and everyone in the building could soon fall prey to infection.
Filled with touches of paranoia, a nod to Night of the Living Dead (in the form of a sick girl who may have a bit more than a touch of tonsilitis), The Evil Dead (a discovered tape-recorder), and some commentary on the racism underlying treatment of “the other” (a Japanese family is blamed for the outbreak by one of the residents), [REC] is paced very well, and its scenes of carnage are low-budget but effective. While I still hate shaky-cam when it comes to action movies (I’m looking at you, Paul Greengrass), I didn’t mind it that much here – it adds a sense of chaos to the situation that works better for a horror film environment. Besides, it’s not attempting to cover for a badly choreographed action sequence; instead, it establishes a disconcerting atmosphere while limiting our view of the low-budget effects, which is probably for the best. I didn’t find the movie scary (although others might), but I did find it intriguing on the level of a good reality show that puts you in the middle of the action. There is a level here where I think the film is taking shots at embedded reporters – the kind of people who worry about getting the good shot while remaining aloof to the suffering around them. Cameraman Pablo, especially, seems interested only in filming (there are certain scenes where he could have certainly lent a hand but didn’t); only when he’s among the last of the survivors does he start to worry about his safety.
[REC] only begins to falter near the end, when all the running around trying to escape rage-infected zombie-types does threaten to become monotonous. Fortunately, [REC] keeps its running time to about 80 minutes, ending in a penthouse apartment that reveals a possibly religious nature surrounding the virus (a doctor/priest seems to be taking orders from the Vatican while doing experiments). It ends rather predictably (with a sequence similar to one featured in Paranormal Activity), but it does leave enough clues for [Rec] 2 to build off of. As “reality horror” goes, I enjoyed it and prefer it to Paranormal Activity. I still maintain, however, that you’ll never find left over footage of me fighting virus-infected maniacs – I would have ditched the camera at the first sign of trouble.
- Bill Gordon