It's invigoratingly contrary to see film-makers rejecting all the incredible camera technology at their disposal and going for the grotty hand-held look. Everyone's doing it now it seems, and the only strange thing really is that it's taken about 10 years or so for people to begin "copying" The Blair Witch Project in earnest (although it had been done before that, of course). Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead and now [.REC] (or Rec for short, wow that's a lot of brackets in one sentence) have gone for the over-the-shoulder camera style one might more readily expect from a documentary.
When the viewer instantly associates reality with that style, dropping something extreme, terrifying and incredible into the frame gives it that much more power.
A Spanish news crew decide to film a Fire Brigade for an episode of 'While You Sleep', and ride along with the Firemen on a routine call to an apartment building where a woman is "trapped". No sooner have they arrived and found an insane old woman covered with blood, than the authorities surprisingly seal the building from the outside with swathes of plastic. Presenter Angela and cameraman Pablo are unlucky enough to become embroiled in one of the most horrific films I think I've ever seen.
There are a few flaws - there's little in the way of character development, with most of the occupants being typecast as realistically annoying and self-centred - "When can we leave", "What's going on", "I want to go up to my apartment", "Stop biting me" are about as much as they can muster. Worse, though, is that Angela seems to have been lumbered with the lines "Keep filming Pablo" or "What's going on Pablo" rather too much. I half expected Pablo to turn to her at one point and just say "Look, will you SHUT the fuck UP for one minute this is harder than it looks" but he's professional enough to just keep rolling (mental note, hire Pablo for first feature film).
Also, of course, there have now been so many zombie films that follow the "get bitten, look sickly for a while, then attack former-friend-now-victim when they expose their neck" formula, that it's easy to get tired of the characters fumbling around and failing to understand the simple rules. How long before a zombie film features a character just sitting his fellow survivors down in front of a TV to watch the Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later and maybe even [.REC] and saying "This is what we're up against, any questions?"
With those very minor gripes aside, let's get on with praising this very scary film. The environment is a wonderfully claustrophobic old-fashioned apartment complex. A nice big spiral staircase with a marble lobby is the focus of much of the film, with the action dipping in and out of darkened rooms as the characters try to find a way out past the quarantine. The acting is very good overall, at least as far as acting very scared goes, and the script has a few nice moments.
But the pacing is the film's real power. It really does accelerate nicely, and there are plenty of moments to chill even the most cynical of bones. As we close in on the last half hour, things just start getting worse and worse for everybody and there is very little room for a hero. This is survival, at best. Be not afraid of romantic subplots, or even quirky sidekicks. This is balls-to-the-wall horror.
What's so scary about it? What sets it apart? Yeah, there's a cop who abuses his power and begins to lose it, the guy who rises to the occasion and starts to kick some zombie arse, throats getting torn out by zombie kids and sprays of arterial blood - YAWN. Ok, not YAWN exactly, and all very well done, but certainly not ground-breaking.
Until the ending.
The ending really knocked me for six and I realised that the whole film lulls you into what you think is safe-territory. What REC does in the last ten to twenty minutes is to present the viewer with something so confusingly terrifying all you can do is hold your breath.
I will not spoil or ruin it, but it needs to be seen because in those last minutes there is such a rich vein of horror being tapped that it's like the motherlode of scary.
PS - an inevitable shot-for-shot American remake called Quarantine is set for release. From the looks of the trailer, you would do well to see the original if you don't mind subtitles, but if you do mind them see the remake like a big fool.
Spanish director who made a variety of short films before debuting in 2002 with the horror thriller Second Name. Followed with the period werewolf flick Romasanta, produced by Brian Yuzna. He subsequently teamed up with another Spaniard, Jaume Balaguero, for the successful REC series.