SYNOPSIS: A TV reporter and her cameraman are set to follow a group of firefighters over the course of one night. They end up at an apartment building and swiftly learn that a saliva-transmitted virus is active inside, causing its victims to become hyper-aggressive. The government quarantines the building, sealing them inside with the enraged infected. Then they discover a more arcane explanation for the epidemic.
Found footage is, even while still relatively novel, too often a crutch for lazy filmmaking. [REC] exploits it in the best possible way. The conceit of having a pro cameraman gives us constantly stable shots in the beginning, which then deteriorate into frenzied shaky-cam stuff in tandem with the worsening situation in the apartment building. The camera is essential here, not an accessory or cheat as in other f.f. films—the damaged mic and night vision at the end especially ramp up the tension and add to the feeling of dread and chaos. I was impressed by how well the effects were handled, too. I'm sure that there was some sneaky editing going on, but the scenes look seamless and the blood looks great.
The setting. Horror frequently works best in small spaces (NOTLD house, TCM house, EXORCIST room) and [REC] utilizes its building setting as not just a spooky place for people to die, but an additional adversary to overcome. So much running, up stairs and into rooms! So many windows to break and doors to bolt! Plus, the building goes from a place where people are rescued to a place where everyone is trapped when the authority figures lock them in. This sealing will be duplicated in the last ten minutes of the film, with unfortunate results that suggest that the extra-building sealing will also fail. We'll see in [REC] 2, I guess!
Manuela Velasco as Angela is really likable, which is lucky for the film since she's by far the most important character. [REC] does a good job at letting you see how goofy and charismatic she is before they get to the building and the inevitable maelstrom of death. Plus she tops PARANORMAL ACTIVITY by appearing in both a tank top and pigtails. Your move, Featherston.
I am so pleased that we eventually get a supernatural explanation for these happenings! I watch horror movies to ESCAPE from reality, which is a big reason that I don't dig slashers. Serial killers exist, so a movie that dwells on them doesn't really give me enough of a disconnect from the world to refresh me. But a movie about skinny apartment demons, I am all in! Plus I love that the European version of the story opts for a fairy-tale religious explanation while its remake, QUARANTINE, made in the land that voted for Bush, discards all that for more science-y plotting. Who are the dumb rednecks now, senor?
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It's not a super-serious issue with all the mayhem, but the non-Angela characters are pretty flat and dull. There are a few quirky moments with homosexual or dandy Cesar, who poses ridiculously for the camera in the midst of a general massacre, then gets racist about Chinamen. But mostly these are standard-issue characters like Old Couple, Concerned Mom, etc. If this movie were more of a character thing and less concerned with relentless action, this would be a bigger flaw. As it stands, not that bad.
Again, nothing disastrous, but parts of this do feel like a video game at times. We have to get a key, then we have to fight a monster, then we get into the room with the big boss monster! Reel-to-reel tape achievement unlocked! But at least it's an interesting and fun video game that moves at a frantic pace. It's not a subtle horror film, but it is a very good one. I dig [REC].
[REC] 2 (2009)
SYNOSIS: [REC] HARDER, as we pick up exactly at the end of the original film, then proceed outside, where two different groups make their way into the building. We'll get to see both of their perspectives via camerawork and also a surprise bonus third view. This time, the church sends in a rep with armed escorts to try to collect possessed blood in order to prep an antidote. Mostly, this feels like an expansion/continuation of the first flick, as some new elements are introduced, but it's generally the same sort of good-times run and kill affair.
The multi-camera gimmick breathed new life into this entry and probably made it more entertaining than the half-rehashed plot prob warranted. Again, the cameras in the film are important elements, from the in-frame footage of the military guys to the night-vision cam from the original [REC]. Returning directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza do a fine job at balancing all of these varying viewpoints and utilizing them to maximum effect.
Effects are once again super-effective and, since we've already learned the basics from [REC], we get far more of them (and less confused skulking around). There are some scenes that are just really phenomenal from an effects standpoint (rocket!) and the demon makeup is generally pretty well-executed.
The sequel boasts either a bigger budget or better understanding of lighting because there are scenes, especially during night-cam, that look fantastic.
It's just fun! Granted, they're going back to the well (literally) in terms of retapping elements from the original, but [REC] 2 never feels boring or turgid. The good news is that it feels like a high-quality video game sequel!
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It feels like a high-quality video game sequel! Overall, this is a positive thing, but there are a number of scenes which REALLY recall first-person shooters. Thankfully, the movie isn't rife with such things, but watching these scenes is a bit less engaging than the rest, since you know monsters are going to jump out. Because that is why you play video games.
We're mostly Angela-less in this sequel and the poor characterization of the first film is a bigger problem. The film introduces more characters—cops, kids, a grimly determined priest—but doesn't give us a whole lot of reasons to care about them other than "it sucks to be killed by demons".
The building setting is both a blessing and a curse in this entry. It's not excruciating to be stuck inside once again and feels fine for this entry, but let's hope that [REC] 3 adds some different locations. We do get a bit of exterior footage of the quarantined building and it's pretty spectacular, but most of 2 goes down inside hallways, corridors, and dim attics.
[REC] 3: GENESIS (2012)
SYNOPSIS: I wanted different and I should be more cautious about my wishing. The dog from the first [REC] bites a guy who then ends up at a wedding. The infection-possession spreads to the guests and the newlyweds get separated and must wage their own separate wars to reunite.
As with all things [REC], the practical effects are beyond reproach. 3 is probably the bloodiest of [REC]s and the fissures of blood and floppy mutilated flesh on parade are the movie's most impressive thing.
As I'll explain, most of this film ditches the shaky-cam stylings of its predecessors, but the multiple-camera shots that we do have are pretty effective. I especially savored the black-and-white security cam footage, as it recalled old-timey horror of the 30s and 40s, particularly with the gingerly-paced possessed (more on that later, too).
3 does what all successful horror franchises eventually end up doing and tries to mix in some comedy to keep the horror parts from being too unrelenting or effective. Some of it works. I liked the idea that record companies hire people to patrol weddings for copyright violations. The dialogue below is pretty hilar, if you don't think about it being placed right after a shocking gorefest, which in real life doesn't lend itself to comical banter.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
I don't think it's a violation of principle for a [REC] movie to ditch the shaky-camera thing, but this one does feel less special for it. It's basically just a modern zombie movie, complete with inconsistent zombies that sometimes literally leap from the rafters like attacking gorillas and other times shuffle around like twitching beseizured grandpas. Not only do we lose the format and possessed biology of [REC]s past, but this version is far less serious about scaring you. Like I said above, there's tons of comedy and some works, but too much doesn't. There's a character dressed as a sponge at the wedding and he helpfully explains that he's not SpongeBob, but SpongeJohn because—
Plus that scene wherein two guys try to burst through the demons' flanks by donning suits of armor. LOL, why aren't you laughing, viewer? Hey, girl! It's funny! Bing bong!
Beginning the film with 20 minutes of wedding footage was Earth's poorest decision! It's not even character stuff, as there's minimal interaction between minor characters, but mostly it just feels like the director really wanted to make wedding videos instead of horror films. Dancing, cake-cutting, shots of decolletage in dresses, it all goes on forever. [REC] 3 is a basically a movie about copyrights and wedding customs, with a peripheral subplot about demon possession.
This isn't horrible. If you watch lots of horror, you've seen worse, but it definitely feels unnecessary and incidental to the [REC] world. The dog thing is really the only connection to the other films and I'm assuming that any potential [REC] 4 would get back to the original plot, preferably outside the building and on a grand scale and with NO comedy.