Archive for November 23, 2007

[REC]

November 23, 2007

The Spanish horror film [REC] gets a lot of mileage out of its shakycam you-are-there style. It’s been done before, of course, though not with this level of creepy artistry. [REC] follows a TV reporter named Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pedro on a tag-along with a firefighter crew for a show called While You’re Asleep. At first, nothing much happens, and Angela is reduced to playing basketball with the firemen at the station. Then a call comes in. Angela and Pedro hustle along with the fire crew as they investigate odd goings-on at an apartment building. Strange noises. An old lady is hurt, or screaming, or doing something — it’s not clear to anyone what exactly’s happening.

It largely stays unclear. Or barely clear. The movie, co-directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, wastes little time plunging Angela and Pedro (and Pedro = us) into gory chaos. The old lady is infected, and in horror movies infections seldom mean taking to one’s bed with herbal tea and Puffs Plus. No, they mean gnashing, homicidal rage, familiar from the 28 Days/Weeks Later films. The infection spreads. The TV crew, the firemen, a few police officers, and several tenants are sealed inside by the authorities — trapped in the building with … them.

Someday, if it hasn’t been done already, someone will make a parody of caught-on-the-fly POV horror movies, in which the cameraman puts down the damn camera and gets his ass out of there, and the movie lasts two minutes. As it is, [REC] clocks in at just over 70 minutes, and Pedro’s camerawork is realistically frazzled — we generally don’t question why he’s getting such great revealing shots of the threat, because he isn’t. These movies are the digicam-in-every-house equivalents of the old-dark-house chillers of the ’30s, wherein the terror emerged from the unseen, the fearfully imagined. The attack sequences pack a grisly punch because the movie doesn’t stop dead to examine them, as a standard-shot movie would. We catch the horror out of the corner of the camera’s eye.

It all hurtles along so fast and so mercilessly that we perhaps don’t, and can’t, call a time-out to wonder why Angela and Pedro somehow endure longer than trained firefighters and policemen. They wind up in a place we so seldom visit in horror movies any more — the attic. Remember when attics were scary? Balaguero and Plaza do. A teasingly oblique explanation for the chaos is offered, by way of one of those old-school reel-to-reel recorders I don’t think I’ve seen in a horror movie since Evil Dead. In part, Portugal’s to blame, and as a Portuguese-American I’m not sure whether to be flattered or offended on behalf of my people, but hell, I’ll be flattered.

[REC] has opened here and there around the globe — as I write this, it’s just recently debuted in the UK — but Americans probably shouldn’t expect to see it officially until at least October, when the US remake, Quarantine, comes out and the original might get a piggyback DVD release. (Avoid, if you can help it, the Quarantine trailer, which amazingly gives away both movies’ final shot!) It’s worth the effort to track it down, either online or on import DVD (it’s slated to hit Spanish shelves in May). At its best, [REC] is a stress test, with genuinely frightening and surreal use of grainy, fidgety camerawork and eerie night-vision. It’s a flab-free treatment of the old siege premise. It’s not quite enough to say that Quarantine has its work cut out for it; any other horror movie this year does, too.