Review: [REC]

Posted by Peter Hall - April 15th 2008 @ 11:56 am

Directed by Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, 2007
Written by Jaume Balagueró, Luis Berdejo, Paco Plaza

There is a cold efficiency to [REC] that I never imagined I would admire from a film. It has no character development. None whatsoever. Zip. Zero. Nunca. [REC] is a conveyor belt horror film, a linear path one steps on to and never steps off of. There are only two ways out of this fear contract: Hop the rail and jump ship midway or wait for Balagueró and Plaza to throw you off at high speed.

Don’t mind the straight line implications of calling a film linear, either. There is nothing wrong with being fixed to a track if the destination is a brick wall of terror and the conductors are hellbent on rocketing forwards with all the subtlety of an ICBM. I meant what I said. [REC] is a fear contract. It will scare you. [REC] will mess your shit up full stop. I don’t care if you’re a seasoned vet or not, it will crack the whip on your heart, racing blood around your circulatory track at a velocity the likes of which your veins haven’t known in years.

Though its widest release on DVD later this year will grant a contrary illusion, [REC] is actually the first of the trifecta of recent fear flicks to feature POV-only filmmaking; the other two being the popular CLOVERFIELD and the commercially elusive DIARY OF THE DEAD. This Spanish firewater of a flick is about a nighttime news gal tasked with producing a segment on firefighters. The first call of the night is to an apartment building where an odd old lady is disturbing the neighbors with maddening screams behind her locked door. The police have called the fire department to break the door down, but instead of just a senile old lady, our civic heroes, videographers, and apartment tennants have got a throat munching old lady on their now bloody hands. Sealing the situation like a pressure cooker is the government outside who, possessing knowledge neither viewer nor characters have been privy to, has seen fit to quarantine them all within.

Yes, zombies are the name of the game. There are no new rules here, nothing inventive to their undead status. I’ll stake, however, that this dearth of originality isn’t a problem for once. They may be no different than the flesh lovers of late and there may be absolutely no character development in the script, but the flick as a whole is unrelenting. I should pause here, though, to throw down one of the disclaimers I feel are always necessary whenever my writing becomes a bit zealous: [REC] is not the epoch of horror. Watching it was not the scariest experience of my life and my underwear went unsoiled. BUT tt did quicken my pulse and keep my heart rate running laps. It widened my eyes, made me jump, and bestowed a variety of ‘Holy Shit!’ moments stronger than many a contender in 2007.

I am also seasoned. A friend of mine, a gent hailing by the name of Gercken, who never misses a horror marathon at our house was pulling his hair out the entire time. It would not be a misquote to report the first words out of his mouth after the ride ended were an energetic, “THAT MOVIE SCARED ME THE FUCK OUT!”

[REC] is capable of eliciting such a gradient of responses because directors Balagueró and Plaza know how to escalate fear. They use their one-camera hook without pretense and the free spirited result is indisputable fun. There is no score, obviously, but the sound mix is an ultra-realistic medley that’ll cement you inside the apartment walls. The camera work is far steadier than the spinning shenanigans of CLOVERFIELD while also being more professional than BLAIR WITCH.

The script’s tossing out of character development doesn’t hurt the experience. It is less than 90 80 minutes long with about 70 60 of those going from trot to gallop to space shuttle. It does, however, hinder it in the cannon of the genre. I can praise its lean lifestyle, but [REC] will never hold a candle to a classic like THE THING. It doesn’t even come close to THE MIST in heart and soul. [REC] is a classic of another breed, living in the here and now, but still scary as all hell. It may be a fleeting classic, but, man do I dig it. When the lights go out and the camera makes that dreaded switch to night vision…Let’s just say I was surprised that when I turned my lights back on Gercken wasn’t bald.


rss 12 comments
  1. R.J. Sayer
    April 15th, 2008 | 12:23 pm | #1

    Peter, did you get a chance to see DIARY OF THE DEAD?

    if not, don’t.

  2. April 15th, 2008 | 12:31 pm | #2

    Nope, never got the chance. Even when it does come up, I’ll take my time getting to it.

  3. PT
    April 15th, 2008 | 5:40 pm | #3

    Loved this film, although didn’t think it used the camera pov premise as well as the other examples. The end certainly shat me right up, and that takes a lot. Certainly recommend this, though knowing less the better, heck, i didn’t even know it had zombies. It’s the closest screen representation i’ve seen of one those nightmares with an inescapable and impending sense of sheer horror.

    My DVD was only shy of 70minutes, do don’t know if i missed some?

  4. April 15th, 2008 | 5:55 pm | #4

    No, you’re right PT, its only about 75 minutes with credits. Went by what IMDb had, not the disc itself.

  5. Will Goss
    April 16th, 2008 | 9:42 am | #5

    So, now that you’ve seen this, thoughts on the Quarantine trailer? (Or did it end playing before Prom Night?)

  6. April 16th, 2008 | 10:06 am | #6

    Heh, it did actually play before Prom Night, but Christine and I closed our eyes, making us appear like the biggest pussies to anyone who noticed. After watching [REC] though I went to go watch it online and, yeah, thanks for recommending I hold off on it. Hopefully this teaser is far enough in advance of the flick that people will forget about it, but yeah, that thing is spoilerific.

    As for QUARANTINE on its own…shrug. It smacks of having [REC]‘s Spanish script just shoved through Babbleflish, but oh well. They could recreate it shot for shot and it’ll still scare the shit out of America. I am a tad interested to see how people react to the camera work. I think word of mouth (if it is as good as the original) will carry it at the box office, but I think it will have a narrow appeal at first because people will go, “Oh, great, another one of those.”

  7. Brian
    April 16th, 2008 | 4:37 pm | #7

    How did you watch this? According to imdb it has no U.S. release date. I know you don’t believe in illegal downloads.

    It appears it was a smart choice to for the camera operator to be a “professional,” so the damn thing can just sit still every once in a while.

  8. April 16th, 2008 | 5:33 pm | #8

    Brian, who told you such lies about me? I bellow a prideful YARRRR!!!! with the best of ‘em.

  9. Brian
    April 16th, 2008 | 7:46 pm | #9

    It took me like 15 minutes to get that pirate reference. I guess I was thinking about how you refuse to watch “work prints.”

    p.s. Special Agent Johnson will be in touch.

  10. April 16th, 2008 | 10:34 pm | #10

    Oh, I’m against workprints, cams, telecines or all that jazz. Final product, though, I’ve got no qualms with. If I’m going to keep up with foreign flicks in a timely manner, certain venues are my only option. I don’t get to go to festivals or get sent DVD screeners, so its either I drop 40 of the ever weakening dollar on an import (as I’m prone to do) or its a pirate’s life for me.

    Not that this justifies it, but I make it a point (usually) not to review something no one else can legally get their hands on. Sometimes I just can’t hold off.

  11. Matt W
    October 6th, 2008 | 9:53 pm | #11

    Well, I definitely came into this review a ‘tad’ late by good God. I consider myself seasoned as do you Peter, but this did scare the bah-jeezus out of me. Not the SCARIEST thing in my lifetime. But there were moments I squinted due to I knew what was coming but my own inner psyche did NOT want my eyes to witness it.

    There is one VERY SLIGHT thing I disagree with. I DID see character development when I was watching. I thought Angela matured as an anchorwoman as the night went on (pre-screams of horror that is). She goes from stumbling lines to being very energetic, accusing, and almost jovial that she is part of a situation (if nothing more than it will further her career). I saw this mainly when the CDC doctor was entering the building. I found it to be a subtle touch. Maybe I was reaching at that point, but regardless, I agree with every other thing you said, especially the second paragraph.

  12. October 7th, 2008 | 8:49 am | #12

    That’s a good call, Matt. Angela does jump on the opportunity and is far more professional once the crisis strikes than how we see her in the opening shot. And you’re right that it is very slight, which of course is typically the best way to handle anything in cinema.

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