For those brave enough to watch, Judge Paul Pritchard recommends a spare pair of pants. He learned the hard way.
Our review of [REC], published July 14th, 2009, is also available.
Though The Blair Witch Project is often credited with starting the "reality horror" genre, it has only been in the past twelve months that the format has fully been embraced. While Hollywood gave us the thrills of Cloverfield and George A. Romero adapted the style for Diary of the Dead; something much darker was brewing in Spain. Having already worked on a number of middling horror movies, writers/directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza pooled their efforts and, with the help of writer Luis Berdejo, created the dark and terrifying [Rec].
Facts of the Case
Spending a night with the local fire department, TV journalist Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo, are initially taken aback by the monotony of the fireman's lot. Excitement finally comes when, following hours of dull interviews, a call to rescue an elderly woman trapped in her apartment comes in. Arriving at the apartment block, and greeted by the local police, the crew are met by a bloodcurdling scream. As events take a turn for the worst, Angela demands only one thing of Pablo: "Do not stop filming."
It can be very difficult not to resort to hyperbole, when trying to write about a movie that genuinely excites you. I can recall as a child, spluttering incoherently to anyone who would listen, about how cool Darkman was. My enthusiasm for the movie would get the better of me, my thoughts moving too fast for my fragile little mind to process. With that in mind, I shall attempt to say this as calmly and clearly as I can; I'm also fully aware of the bold statement I'm about to make. Okay, deep breath, here goes: [Rec] is the best horror movie released this decade.
Now think about that, there have been some very good, even great, horror movies released since the year 2000. The genre has been pushed in some new directions, while older formulas have been reworked. Taking into account the rise in popularity of Asian horror and the birth of the "torture porn" subgenre, horror fans have been treated to films that push them to extremes, whether it be in terms of onscreen violence or with goings on of a more psychological nature.
Summing up [Rec] in as simple a way as possible, one could simply describe it as Cloverfield meets Dawn of the Dead. Indeed, it could also legitimately be described as The Blair Witch Project mixed with Demons. Both descriptions would be correct, but also do [Rec] a great disservice. Though the elements that make up [Rec] are hardly original, it's structure and execution see it ascend to heights its peers can only dream of, while simultaneously taking its viewers on a nightmare trip that will see them descend to the very pits of hell.
Starting out quite cheerily, [Rec] begins with TV reporter Angela and her cameraman Pablo spending the night at a local fire station, working on a piece for their show about people who work while the rest of us sleep. The camera (i.e. Pablo) follows Angela around as she interviews the firemen, while feigning interest in their far from exciting stories. Eventually, much to Angela's delight, a call comes in; an elderly lady is trapped somewhere in her apartment block. Immediately, Angela and Pablo head out into the night with a fire crew. It's not long before the screaming starts. From the moment that Angela, Pablo, and the fire crew step out of the fire truck, directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza change the tone drastically, creating an ominous atmosphere. You can just sense there is something desperately wrong.
I won't go into any specifics regarding the events that follow; to do that would be to rob first-time viewers of the full [Rec] experience. While repeated viewings reveal that the film's strengths do not rely on the initial shock factor; that first viewing of [Rec] should be undertaken with as little prior knowledge as possible.
So, with the assurance that this will remain a spoiler-free review, what makes [Rec] so great? Well, as stated earlier, the film's structure is rock solid. Even more so than Cloverfield, [Rec] knows exactly what to show you, and when. It's early on that we have our first meeting with the evil that lurks in the apartment block; the confrontation begins in an apparently controlled manner, with nobody fully aware of the gravity of the situation. Gradually, and in no apparent rush, Balaguero and Plaza turn the screws and ramp up the tension. Without even a raised voice, the atmosphere becomes almost unbearable and then…well, that would be telling.
As the film progresses; the situation Angela and Pablo find themselves in deteriorates and does so at a frantic pace. As they become sealed off from the outside world, the inhabitants of the apartment block are forced to come to terms with the fact that not only is a terrifying evil stalking their hallways, but that the authorities, the very people who are supposed to protect them, are prepared to sacrifice them all for fear of whatever is inside the building.
One problem that films of this ilk suffer from is how, exactly, to end the story. At what point the camera shuts off can prove crucial. As much as I enjoyed Cloverfield, it stumbled badly in its final few minutes, apparently unsure of how to wrap things up. The Blair Witch Project suffered a similar fate; adamant that the film would not reveal the evil in the woods, the film's finale was anti-climactic. [Rec], thankfully, bucks this trend and actually delivers an ending that escalates matters to new heights. The final 10 minutes of [Rec] are a master class in horror. In the film's final moments we are treated to a few revelations regarding the origin of the evil that cast the preceding events in a whole new light. Without resorting to cheap scare tactics, such as the old "cat jumping out of the closet" trick, the finale is one of the most frightening sequences I've ever seen committed to film.
The film's cast is excellent. All involved offer performances that feel real, never slipping up and throwing the viewer out of the experience. Similarly, directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza fail to put a foot wrong. With an assured hand, they never once lose their grasp on reality, no matter how dark things get. They also refuse to pull any punches, when things need to get nasty; Balaguero and Plaza are fully prepared to go all the way. This is not a film that that threatens to show something, only to pull away at the vital moment.
Beautifully natural dialogue, a tightly written story and editing to die for; [Rec] is the real deal. A Region 1 release is still unconfirmed, meaning importing the Region 2 set is the only option currently available for U.S.-based horror fans, something I'd recommend, before the U.S. remake Quarantine is released this coming October.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer maintains a natural look, that helps draw the viewer in. The image is clear, and detailed, with excellent black levels, that make the most of some excellent lighting work. Even more impressive is the excellent DTS soundtrack. Like all good horror, the use of sound is crucial to the viewers immersion in the film. Once again, this is an area that [Rec] excels in.
The two-disc edition of [Rec], released on Region 2 DVD, features a good set of extras. The interviews and behind-the-scenes footage serve two purposes. Firstly, they are informative and give a good insight into the making of this horror gem. Secondly, they help remind you that was just a movie, after all.
Spanish cinema has recently garnered high praise for films such as the magnificent The Orphanage, and rightly so. But while The Orphanage is wrongly labeled as horror (it's a ghost story, there is a difference); [Rec] is horror at its most raw.
Put another way, [Rec] is the first film to actually frighten me since I was nine years old. Turn out the lights, crank up the surround sound, and prepare yourselves.
Guilty of causing sleepless nights.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Contender Home Entertainment
• The Making of Rec
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