Friday, March 18, 2011

[REC] (Spain, 2007)

(Just an aside: as someone who regularly translates subtitles [German > English], I find that the obvious non-native speaker who did those of the following trailer really made some hilarious mistakes. Can you spot them yourselves?)

So, if we're to believe this film, the Vatican is quite capable of doing worse things than protecting their own when it comes to Priests playing pattycake with kiddies; going by [REC], Vatican employees are also quite willing to concoct deadly demon viruses and then run for them there hills when they lose control of their creation, leaving the innocent folks to suffer and die…
For [REC], Catalonian wanna-be-maestro horror director Jaume Balagueró – having seen three of his other films, namely Fragile (2005 / trailer), Darkness (2002 / trailer) and The Nameless (1999 / trailer), and not having really liked any of them, I am loath to call him even a semi-maestro – joins forces with Paco Plaza, the director of Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004 / trailer), to be the first Spaniards to jump onto the shaky-cam cinéma vérité horror film bandwagon made popular by The Blair Witch Project (1999 / trailer) and copied in the US (and England) in various forms in films ranging from Diary of the Dead (2007 / trailer) to Paranormal Activity (2007 / trailer) to The Zombie Diaries (2006 / trailer) to Cloverfield (2008 / trailer) to The Last Exorcism (2010 / trailer) to The Fourth Kind (2009 / trailer) to Grave Encounters (2010 / trailer) and Evidence (2011 / trailer).*
And the result? Well, a film that could possibly be described as 28 Days Later (2002 / trailer) in an apartment house, or perhaps The Crazies (2010 / trailer or 1973 / trailer) meets Demon 2 (1986 / trailer) but with fewer characters and an older building. No matter how you describe it, however, [REC] remains true seat jumper and probably Jaume Balagueró's best film to date. True, there are a few odd flaws to the tale, but [REC] barrels along at such fast speed once the shit hits the fan that the viewer is way too busy spilling their beer to really immediately notice the few inconsistencies or loose ends in the narrative. Afterwards the questions might come to mind, but while the film is running the immediate thrill is literally palpable and sphincter-tightening. [REC] is meant to be a scary film, and it is one – básta! It is easy to see why the film was promptly picked up for a US American remake, which as everyone knows came out in 2008 entitled Quarantine (2008 / trailer)…
Shot on location in Barcelona, Spain, most of the film plays out in an old, large but effectively claustrophobic apartment house. Only the first ten minutes or so, which set up the uncomplicated basic premise and introduce the core characters, take place elsewhere (at a fire station). It is there that we get introduced to the delectable Spanish dish Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco of School Killer [2001 / trailer]), the TV announcer of a program called While You're Asleep, and her faceless cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso), who are to spend the evening with the fire department to share the normal working night of the fireman with the world – only the working night ends up not being very normal.
Just as the boredom of waiting sets in, the bell goes off and off they go to answer a routine call at an apartment house; it seems that the batty old cat lady upstairs has been screaming behind her locked doors, though all is silent now. Meeting up with the cops on scene they bust down the door and discover the filthy, disoriented old lady – who promptly bites a chunk out of one of the cops. Man down, goes the emergency call, but by the time they get back to the ground floor, the building is already under quarantine. A loud "SPLAT!" later the shit hits the fan as more and more people quickly turn into rabid, virtually unstoppable killers… and from there until the last, consequent event of the movie (and the only logical ending), the viewer is subjected to nail-biting tension, amply supported by great sound and a properly disorienting camera work…
As mentioned before, [REC] is part of the Blair Witch school of filmmaking, so everything is seen from the eye of Pablo's camera. It works, which is the important thing, adding a nice disorientation to the events, though I seriously doubt that anyone really in that situation would have the nerves to continue filming as throat-chomping killers attack from left and right. It is a bit odd that the first two men bitten need a relatively long time to change over – in comparison to all others, who seem to flip in mere minutes if not seconds – but had Balagueró and Plaza not drawn out a few of the developments, the film is such a fast one it would have been over much too quickly. One death fails to scare at all because you see it coming in miles advance – really, how stupid can you be to stand in front and with your back turned to a barred but glass door behind which a bitten man is locked? That "SPLAT!" is even able to turn is amazing, too, but then the various infected seem to be pretty much unstoppable – even bullets seem to only put them down for a minute or two at most – which is perhaps understandable if you keep in mind that the virus is less a virus than a viral form of evil, distilled from a possessed girl by the previously mentioned priest (the one who took to the hills) in order to create a vaccine against possession. (I said the film was a good scary film, not that the premise was believable.)
The previously mentioned (and a few unmentioned) quibbles aside, [REC] is a nasty, scary, killer film and one dynamite rollercoaster of terror that delivers in spades and definitely pulls no punches. Of great asset to the film are the lead babe Ángela (Manuela Velasco) and the longest-lasting fireman Manu (Ferran Terraza): both are likable – hell, she's positively hot in a Spanish way – and they easily generate and keep the sympathy and concern of the viewer.
Dunno what the remake is like, but the original might easily make the more impressionable out there wet their pants… if nothing else, the film will definitely make you spill your beer. I know I spilt mine.

*There are surely more out there, these are just those that came relatively quickly to mind.

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