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Monday, July 21, 2008

[REC] (2007) - Juame Balaguero & Paco Plaza

Spanish horror seems to be the new Asian horror. Over the last few years, films like The Others, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage have shocked and terrified audiences. And each of these films has brought something new to the table. Released last year, [REC] is one of the latest Spanish horror film to arrive at our doors. While parts of the film have been done before, [REC] also manages to hold it’s own when put up against other similar films.

[REC] is a mockumentary in the same style as The Blair Witch project. We observe proceedings through the lens of a video camera, as a documentary crew follows a team of fire fighters over the space of a night. The crew consists of a cameraman we never see and sexy presenter Angela. They hop on board the fire engine after an emergency call is placed. The crew arrive at a tenement building where screams are heard from one of the apartments. When the police and fire crew enter the apartment, they are viciously attacked by a bloody and screaming old woman. Things go from bad to worse when the government arrive at the tenement, seal everyone in and tell them nobody can leave. And the danger from within grows ever more deadly.

What works so well with [REC] is that it’s a total slow-burner. The film begins in a light hearted manner. Angela, the sassy reporter is after action and goes through the motions of interviewing various fire fighters while taking the piss at times. As we arrive at the tenement, you feel like you’re watching rough footage of a pre-watershed fly on the wall documentary. We’re introduced to the characters in the film and there are a few funny moments. But as things turn dark, the audience, like the characters in the film become more isolated and confused. There are numerous questions, but no answers. It’s a tried and tested formula, and filmmakers Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza do an excellent job of building the tension.

The film feels very similar to 28 Days Later. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that [REC] takes place in the same universe as 28 Days Later, just in a different part of the world. The infection that the people are suffering from shares the same symptoms as the rage virus in 28 Days, and 28 Weeks Later. It's not identical, it just looks the same. So from that respect, you may not be too frightened by the film. But events are kept moving swiftly, and during the tension moments, you are left biting your nails.

However, the real terrifying moment comes towards the end of the film. Like most great horror films, [REC] builds it’s tension to a crescendo and then unleashes the goods on the audience. And I must admit, when events did climax, I was pretty terrified. Again, the moment in the film felt like something I have seen before. If you’ve ever seen the Chris Cunningham short, Rubber Johnny, you’ll have some idea of what to expect. However, despite having seen similar before, the execution of the film pushes these minor complaints out of the picture. The film is better than the sum of it’s parts. The acting, for the most part is pretty good. Angela, played by Manuela Velasco is the character we’re given most access too. She’s the host of the show, and therefore is the actor with most screen time. She’s cocky at the start and terrified by the end, so she puts in a good performance. Everyone else gets little more than passing shots and a quick interview. But when they have to freak out, they freak out well!

As I’ve said, [REC] isn’t the most original film in the world. It lifts elements from other films, however it rearranges them well and builds tension very well. The ending is genuinely terrifying. [REC] would make a good third part of a 28 Days/Weeks marathon night. It shares a similar approach to these films and wouldn’t seem out of place among them. Unfortunately, a US remake is on it's way. Totally unnecessary. One note... there’s a lot of screaming in the film. If you’ve sleeping housemates, keep the volume down!


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