Monday, 28 April 2008

Film Review: [Rec]

Spanish shaky-cam horror movie [Rec] is uncomplicated, clichéd and derivative.

It’s also the most terrifying film I've ever seen.

The set-up is deliciously simple. A film crew – peppy blonde reporter Angela (played by the unfeasibly sexy Manuela Velasco) and unseen cameraman Pablo – are following a fire crew around for a late-night Spanish TV show.

The night begins uneventfully and Angela alleviates her boredom by playing basketball, laughing at the firemen’s trousers, fiddling with her hair and generally behaving like the beautiful Catalan temptress that she is. Her wish for some excitement is soon granted as the station receives a call about an old lady trapped in a Barcelona apartment.

Manu (Ferran Terraza) and Alex (David Vert) are the firemen who respond to the emergency, with Angela and Pablo hurriedly tagging along behind. When they arrive, they find police already at the scene and the tenants anxiously gathered in the lobby. Breaking into the old woman’s apartment, they find her rabid and covered in blood.

The old woman bites one of the policemen and no sooner has the entire building been quarantined by a silhouetted biohazard team than we're in familiar zombie survivor movie territory – people run from the zombies, occasionally fight back (notably with a sledgehammer) and more often than not, get bitten and become zombies themselves.

Okay, so there’s little that's new here; the shaky-cam spin has already been brought to the zombie genre reasonably recently by Diary of the Dead. But neither George Romero’s film nor The Blair Witch Project used the immediacy of the format to such emotional effect. Diary of the Dead eschewed scares in favour of a social commentary, while Blair Witch sought to unnerve the viewer with the power of suggestion alone. [Rec], on the other hand, supplies its horror in frenzied and visceral shocks, as directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza use the wobbly first-person point of view to plunge the audience straight into the chaos.

[Rec] also manages to eliminate all the usual flaws associated not only with survivor movies but with shaky-cam films. We’re told why mobile phones don’t work. Threatened with death if they attempt to leave the building by the unseen biohazard team, it's clear why the protagonists don't just smash through the front door. And, in an unusual step for the genre, a health inspector is even introduced to proceedings, giving us the sense that the authorities are actually attempting to understand what's happening inside the building. [Rec] even resolves the 'why is he still filming?' issue that bugged Cloverfield and Blair Witch by having Pablo as a professional cameraman.

And then there’s the ending. While [Rec] serves up standard albeit accomplished zombie thrills for the most part, in the final twenty minutes, it twists towards a claustrophobic night-vision climax that is among the most terrifying and nightmarish ever conceived. Not only is it one of the most masterful, petrifying sequences in movie history, but it also implies doubt as to what the monsters are.

[Rec] will reappear in cinemas in a couple of months as the Hollywood-ised Quarantine, which looks from the trailers to be a shot-for-shot remake, albeit without the subtitles that Americans clearly struggle with.

Whether Quarantine is any good, and the treatment meted out to The Ring and The Grudge suggests it almost certainly won’t be, its existence is utterly unnecessary and you're encouraged to seek out the original before it disappears from its limited cinema run. [Rec] is tense, shrill and sweaty, and even with a curt 80 minute running time, accomplishes absolutely everything a horror film should.

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