Schlocktoberfest #25: [•REC]
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding this one, but it is not available on DVD in the U.S. yet. It was remade as Quarantine, which dropped out of theaters faster than profits on Wall Street. Not sure why it wasn’t released in the U.S., as The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth have shown that yes, Americans can read when foreigners are speaking their crazy moon-man language on the screen, and we will even pay to do so. I waited and waited for a DVD release, and then just gave up and watched it by other means. The “live camera” and zombie stories have both been done before, but here they are combined in an original and engaging manner that puts you in the victims’ situation on an emotional and visceral level. I was totally drawn in, and can see why it’s generated such strong responses.
I can understand changing the title; [Rec] stands for recording, and everything we see comes from a news reporter’s camera as she and her cameraman do a late-night piece on a group of firemen. The reporter is a pretty-face talking head named Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) who primps a bit, but seems genuinely interested in her subjects, and isn’t made to be the typical ladder-climbing journalist. That is one reason that foreign horror films have had such success; they don’t seem to rely on character types like American scripts have for ages now. They also have the subtitles and foreign language actually working for them, since you have to concentrate more, and it draws you in. [Rec] begins with Ángela confessing that she hopes the firemen go on a call so they can follow, and she gets her wish; but as they say, be careful what you wish for. This is one ride-along that won’t end pretty.
The call takes them to an apartment complex where a woman is trapped inside and needs medical attention. The firemen enjoy showing off for the camera, tempered with admirable shyness and humility; they find an old woman who obviously needs help, and when they try to provide it, things go terribly wrong. When they try to bring the woman to medical attention, they find that the building has been quarantined, and health inspectors won’t let anyone out. The firemen are incredulous; one of their own needs a doctor too, and they are told to wait. The reporters decide to interview the rest of the people in the building. We meet an elderly couple, who have that endearing and humorous quality as they bicker gently; a woman and her child, who has tonsilitis; an older bachelor named Pablo who chuckles and poses for the camera.
They settle down and wait for authority to tell them what to do, and we get comfortable. We soon find there is good reason to quarantine the building, and the infection begins to spread. We know what has to happen, but it shocks us anyway; the screenplay and director expect us to know the zombie plot and use subtle tricks to get it to work on us. These are “fast zombies” and the infection is similar to the Rage virus from 28 Days Later and the zombies Dawn of the Dead (2004) without the jerky camera tricks to make them “scarier.” Someone screaming and trying to bite chunks out of your face is scary enough!
The jerky camera was a lot easier to take than Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project; since it’s a news crew, they get a steadycam and it helps with the motion sickness. The authorities want the camera off, but reporters are sneaky. [Rec] feels like embedded footage, full of palpable tension and peopled with smart, but panicked characters put in an impossible situation, where you must constantly act to survive. We get some explanation here and there, unlike Dawn but it is not dwelled upon. We don’t come to see horror to hear monologues. With the cast trapped in one building, it resembles The Evil Dead minus the humor, and the inevitable ending is bleak but the only one that works. And how it works!
I hope this gets a U.S. DVD release soon so I can buy it and scare the living shit out of my friends. I enjoyed it greatly, and am disappointed that a remake was foisted on us instead. So if you see a strangely titled movie in your video store or on your cable guide called [•REC] — don’t think twice. Turn out the lights, make some tapas, and enjoy one of the best horror movies of recent vintage. Spain’s movie industry has much more to offer than Almodovar’s campy fun, and this proves it.