Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Without wishing to sound like a certain larger-than-life online film personality, [REC] rocks. Or rules. Or whatever the word du jour is these days to succinctly describe one’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to a movie. [REC], directed by Spanish filmmakers Jaume Balaguero (The Nameless, Darkness, Fragile) and Paco Plaza, who I met briefly when I was on the jury of the Fantasporto Film Festival a few year back, have joined forces for one of the most realistic and terrifying horror movies I’ve seen since The Blair Witch Project which this, in many ways, resembles, albeit being a far more visceral experience. While Blair Witch relied more on the power of suggestion, this serves up horror that’s frenzied, hardcore, and, for once, truly horrific, although, as with that seminal shocker, much of what happens here takes place in the dark.
The set up is beautifully conceived. A TV crew — bubbly blonde onscreen reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco) and unseen cameraman Pablo — are following a late-night fire crew around for a programme called When We’re Sleep when a call comes in regarding to an old lady trapped inside a Barcelona apartment. When fire fighters Manu (Ferran Terraza) and Alex (David Vert) respond to the emergency, Angela and Pablo tag along, and we [and I mean “we” because we experience/see everything through the lens of Pablo’s camera at the same time as the characters] find two police officers already at the scene and the building’s other residents gathered in the lobby. Traipsing upstairs in search of the woman, they find her holed up in her apartment virtually rabid, covered in blood, screaming. Then she takes a bite out of one copper’s neck and all hell breaks loose.
Thereafter [REC] becomes a brilliantly contained bio zombie movie as the building is quarantined and sealed off by the authorities, fearful of an outbreak. And there you have just one of the film’s eureka notions: a contained zombie movie, with both the living and the “dead” trapped inside with no way out.
While several films in the wake of Blair Witch’s success tried to utilise the cine-verite trick, none have pulled it off as well as [REC]. The use of the TV camera rarely feels forced, and as the quality and familiarity of the image is something we’re all used to through exposure to the news or reality television, it actually helps lend veracity to the horrors on show. And because we’re supposedly watching “live” video footage rather than a fictional piece, there are no music cues to misdirect or instil fear in the audience, nothing to artificially heighten a scene. When something attacks, it bloody well attacks, violently and viciously and unexpectedly.
As events continue to unfold and the body count mounts, the camera becomes increasingly shaky, the images harder to focus on, and when the lights go out in the building, large parts of the frame are rendered impossibly dark. Soon the only available light is the spotlight on top of Pablo’s camera, and when that goes, he switches to night-vision mode and things get even creepier…
Balaguero and Plaza know better than to serve up anything beyond a mere hint of character, preferring to amp up the terror, tension and claustrophobia, added by regular explosions of viscera and violence. More a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride than a movie, [REC], at barely 80 minutes, never overstays its welcome. I left the cinema shaken but exhilarated. No wonder Hollywood is already shooting the remake…