[REC] takes the familiar format of the zombie horror film and applies the gloss of originality beloved by fans of Spanish horror. Like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Cloverfield (2008), [REC] utilises a single hand-held camera to heighten the film’s sense of realism.
Angela (Manuela Velasco) and Pablo (Pablo Rosso) are reporters for Barcelona’s late-night While You Sleep show, and are required to shoot a tedious feature on the night staff of a local fire station. “It’s like a lottery,” says fire-fighter Andreu. “We might get a call, we might not.” Angela’s frustration and boredom are palpable as she struggles to fill airtime, waiting for a call that refuses to come.
Finally, Angela gets the scoop she’s been looking for when the crew are called out to rescue an old woman trapped in her apartment. The routine call-out quickly escalates into a perilous situation when an officer is attacked and seriously injured by the trapped woman. Angela, Pablo and the fire crew rush the injured man back to the building’s foyer, only to find that the exits have been sealed by the military. The apartment’s residents begin to panic, and the film crew are left to capture the authorities’ attempts to deal with the increasingly fractious situation.
Things go from bad to worse as, with a number of people sick and injured, the unwitting prisoners seek an alternative way out of the apartment block. The residents’ sense of panic is in no way assuaged when the authorities allow a medic, clad from head-to-toe in hazmat gear, into the building. The casualties begin to mount as the medic explains that the unusually aggressive behaviour of the sick is the result of a blood-borne virus. Nothing escapes the prying eye of Pablo’s camera, and Angela’s investigative instincts go into overdrive.
The infection spreads rapidly, and the survivors are offered no help from the outside world as they attempt to escape their hellish imprisonment. Eventually, Angela and Pablo stumble across the nightmarish truth of their situation as their hopes of survival rapidly diminish…
The majority of ‘zombie’ films are festivals of gore and ubiquitous shock moments, so it’s refreshing to see the genre given a more psychological interpretation in [REC]. There’s a palpable sense of tension about the film; the performances are assured and there are a number of scenes, particularly the one in which a woman handcuffed to a railing is eaten alive, which are genuinely affecting. The film is often chaotic, and the sheer panic portrayed by the cast is eminently believable. Belagueró and Plaza avoid the clichés usually associated with the genre and instead play on the fear of the unknown to achieve their scares, an approach which is both novel and successful.
The constant hand-held camera produces problems as well as an engaging visual strategy.
Although The Blair Witch Project was perhaps the first of its kind, the single camera ‘realist’ horror film is now almost a genre in itself; perhaps no other technique is quite as successful at placing the audience in a position of vulnerability. [REC] uses this technique to great effect, combining the claustrophobia-inducing realism of a single point-of-view with some excellent, confined locations to create an incredibly frantic atmosphere. There are limitations to this method, though; audiences are prepared to suspend their disbelief, but that isn’t to say that they will seek out the nearest gibbet and string it up entirely. There comes a point when the astute observer will question why Pablo steadfastly maintains a hold of his camera when his very life, and those of others, are at stake. To its eternal credit, [REC] goes to some lengths to address this point, with Angela repeatedly entreating the man to “record everything,” so that the outside world can know what occurred. Furthermore, the camera itself becomes an ally in their quest to survive, as Pablo utilises the camera’s spotlight, and later its night-vision mode, to overcome the limitations of his own vision. Ironically, in the film’s finale, the very thing that has imprisoned the audience to a restrictive line of sight is now a source of comfort in the dark.
The constant hand-held camera produces problems as well as an engaging visual strategy. The constant motion that the camerawork entails can be confusing and distracting, even nauseating at times. The mobility of the cinematography enhances the frenetic nature of the film, but conversely means that the action can be somewhat difficult to follow. Also questionable is the fact that despite going to great pains to lockdown the infected building, the authorities are prepared to allow Pablo to continue documenting the situation. These are minor criticisms, though, as overall [REC] is a mature and well-executed film, particularly when the directors’ inexperience is taken into account.
[REC] takes an interesting approach to an oversubscribed genre and achieves an admirable blend of subtlety and genuine fear. A very assured and effective feature executed on a limited budget.
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