Studio: Sony Pictures
Director: Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza
Writer: Jaume Balaguero, Luis Berdejo, Paco Plaza
Producer: Julio Fernandez
Stars: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert, Vicente Gil, Martha Carbonell, Carlos Vicente, Javier Botet, Claudia Silva
When a deadly outbreak forces an apartment building into quarantine, the people trapped inside fight to escape as infected residents attack.
[REC] is the movie to recommend for anyone who wants to understand what the fuss is about with “found footage,” but has yet to find a film that captures everything worthwhile offered by the sub-genre. Already successfully combining the best of a viral outbreak thriller with ravenous zombie horror, [REC] writes a PhD-grade textbook on how to present “found footage” effectively, and it does so in just 70 minutes.
Right from the word “go,” [REC] is ahead of its peers by presenting unassuming characters in an initial setup that in no way primes them for the unexpected shocks ahead. Angela and Pablo are neither amateur filmmakers setting out to intentionally find a witch in the woods nor a ghost hunting reality TV crew searching a haunted building. As show host and cameraman respectively, they have the much more mundane assignment of following average firemen around Barcelona for a routine night shift. After responding to a call of screams from inside an apartment, Angela and Pablo find themselves trapped with the police, firemen, and residents when the building is inexplicably quarantined. Angela and Pablo are now caught in a different story entirely as infection spreads and humans become something else.
This deceptively simple premise gives the filmmakers a ready-made answer for virtually every common “found footage” criticism, starting with why the camera is perpetually recording. When Hell breaks loose, the police on scene put a hand over the lens like a shady businessman wearing a blurry face in a “20/20” exposé. Acting on journalistic instinct, Pablo and Angela insist on continuing to film partly because they sense a huge story breaking, and partly to spite the authorities telling them not to. The police are inadvertently challenging them to keep the camera mounted and the power on, as if to make them say, “you can’t tell me what to do.”
[REC] also avoids the trampled route of slowly ramping exposition that culminates in a climax made more exciting by the preceding hour being so dreadfully dull. Eight or so minutes are given over to vapid exchanges when a quiet firehouse tour is the only event on hand. But once the horror starts after arriving at the apartment building, it never stops. [REC] rides a wave of urgency from the first bitten victim all the way through to the finale as police activity swarms noisily outside and raging zombies attack incessantly inside.
Directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza drop a Hansel and Gretel crumb trail that tantalizingly creates a path through the backstory while letting everything onscreen unfurl at a naturally fast pace. Clues are dropped along the way that casually mention a dog kenneled at a veterinarian, a vacant penthouse apartment, and vague dialogue about an unidentified Colombian girl. All of it ties together in good time and with satisfying explanations. [REC] has a way of revealing enough about its direction in regular increments to keep the fascination high and the frustration low.
Details have depth, too. Conveniences like infected people turning rabid precisely when the movie needs a well-timed jolt make story sense when a health inspector cites blood type as a dependent factor in the incubation period. Most films have a pandemic run wild and leave it at that. [REC] carefully considers how all of its elements work in unison to create an immersive horror experience that feels like “found footage.”
Cinematographer, and co-star, Pablo Rosso heightens the realistic feel with staging that rarely comes off as ridiculously fortuitous. The camera does not catch everything, and is even turned off in some instances, the way “real” footage would expect to be found in such an unbelievable circumstance. In one shot, a hazmat-suited health inspector puts the kibosh on the continued filming. In the next setup, the camera shows a precocious seven-year-old’s nose in the lens as she presses the power button in curiosity while the camera lies on the floor. The subsequent shot plays out with a shoe filling the frame and a sense of authenticity filling the scene.
More important than how well made and how well planned the movie is, [REC] is scary, gripping, and hugely satisfying on an entertainment level. The story would work even if it were not presented as “found footage,” which is a compliment that cannot be given to many similar films. But the fact that it does “found footage” so well is just one more jewel in a crown that [REC] wears proudly as a truly great horror film no matter what format.
Review Score: 90