Thursday 21 August 2008

[●REC] (2007)

Thursday 21 August 2008
Directors: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Writers: Jaume Balagueró & Luis Berdejo

Cast: Manuela Valasco (Ángela Vidal), Javier Botet (Niña Medeiros), Manuel Bronchud (Abuelo), Marta Carbonell (Sra. Izquierdo), Claudia Font (Jennifer), Vicente Gil (Policía), Maria Lanau (Jennifer's Mother), Carlos Lasarte (Cesar), María Teresa Ortega (Abuela), Pablo Rosso (Marcos), Pep Sais (Voice), Jorge Serrano (Sergio), Ferran Terraza (Manu), David Vert (Álex) & Carlos Vicente (Guillem)

This Spanish film uses the device of a fake documentary to spin a claustrophobic horror story about an outbreak of zombies in an apartment block. The building is quarantined by the government shortly after the outbreak, trapping cheerful reporter Ángela (Manuela Valasco) and her cameraman Pablo inside, who were there to document the Barcelona fire department's night shift.

Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza essentially offer up a more complex Blair Witch Project-style production, with zombies replacing witchcraft -- a twist also performed by George Romero's Diary Of The Dead. But while it may lack originality, it makes up for that shortfall with several tense moments, a few jolting jump-scares and a barnstorming climax that also delivers a unique cause for the zombie uprising...

The fact [●REC] is foreign language adds a further layer of alienation for English-speaking audiences, despite the subtitles. It's easy to believe in the reality being presented (perhaps more so because of the Spanish setting), and only the polish of its well-timed shocks reminds you this is all an elaborately-staged hoax.

There are a few niggling problems, however. Manuela Valasco is perfectly likeable as Ángela, but all the characters in [●REC] have even less development than Cloverfield's rabble. Ángela basically goes from happy-go-lucky to frightened survivalist. The lack of character development isn't too much of an issue in films like this, but it does mean you're never truly connected to the people on-screen. They're dolls for the audience to project themselves into. Consequently, while very easy to get drawn into the film's reality, it's difficult to care when people start dying.

[●REC] also suffers from a stuttering pace, primarily when the film sags after the first attack by a zombie old lady, and concentrates on the external horror of being quarantined by your own government. The characters are also ridiculously slow to realize their situation, or to at least make the obvious kind of deductions. It gets a little irritating waiting for the film's characters to play catch-up with the audience, basically.

Fortunately, things pick up dramatically in the last quarter and the film steamrolls ahead once Ángela and her cameraman decide to investigate the dark upper floors themselves. Indeed, the success of [●REC] boils down to its unsettling, frightening and imaginative climax -- featuring the creepiest villainess since The Ring's Samara.

Overall, this is a Spanish film that takes the prototypical low-budget American horror indie and combines it with psychologically tense J-Horror. The result is an effective example of believable, immersive, edgy and chilling horror. It's a shame the pace wasn't stronger and the characterisations more developed, but Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza ensure [●REC]'s a consistently entertaining and often nerve-jangling 75-minutes of thrills, directed with skill and verve.

The US remake (renamed Quarantine, starring Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter) is scheduled for release this Halloween. Hopefully it'll reproduce the scares while offering fresh perspective (as Gore Verbinski's Ring achieved), but it's always worth checking out the original, just in case the fear-factor's lost in translation (like Walter Salles' Dark Water).

75 minutes