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Since [REC] 2 is debuting on DVD this Tuesday, July 12, we
thought it would be a good time to look at Michael Gingold’s glowing review of
the original Spanish classic that inspired not only the American remake
QUARANTINE, but [REC] 2 and a pair of upcoming sequels.
This is gonna be a fairly short review, because all that
really needs to be said is that [REC] is an absolute must-see, a ferociously
intense, compellingly well-crafted exercise in scaring you right out of your
seat. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s movie is a triumph of you-are-there
Part of the achievement of the two directors (who scripted
the film with Luis Berdejo) is the fact that they have spun such a gripping and
shocking experience out of basic ingredients that are by now familiar to fright
fans. [REC] is presented entirely through the camera lens of Pablo, the
cameraman accompanying Ángela (Manuela Velasco) on her late-night news program
WHILE YOU’RE ASLEEP. On a routine show covering a Barcelona fire department, on
a night when nothing terribly exciting at first seems to be going on, the
station gets a call to investigate reports of a screaming woman, and Ángela and
Pablo tag along to the small apartment building from which the call came. The
narrative setup is reminiscent of forebears from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT to
CLOVERFIELD—ordinary, bordering on banal, footage with no signposts of the
terrors to come—but it succeeds in allowing us to get to know its central characters
before all hell breaks loose.
And break loose it does. Once Ángela, Pablo and the
firefighters, joined by a few cops, discover just why that woman is screaming,
[REC] lets loose with a series of increasingly unnerving crises and
confrontations, and it soon becomes clear that a horrible sickness is loose in
the building, one that turns those infected into slavering, bloodthirsty human
monsters. Such fast-moving “zombies” have been done many times in recent fear
fare as well, but here the gambit is particularly effective because, with one
or two exceptions, we get to know them all before they become ghouls—meaning
that the suspense derives from who’s going to catch the virus next in addition
to whether those uninfected will be able to escape them.
More should not be said about how the story unfolds, because
[REC] is one of those films that follows Joe Bob Briggs’ cardinal rules of
horror movies: Anybody can die at any time. The only one we know for sure will
make it at least most of the way is Ángela, whose insistence that the world
needs to know what’s happening provides the perfect rationale for the taping to
continue in the midst of the struggle to survive. Still, by the halfway point,
you’ll forget all about such rationalizations, because you’ll be too busy
freaking out at the succession of in-your-face jolts and genuinely horrifying
setpieces that Balagueró and Plaza throw at you with absolutely no mercy. Their
terrifying cinematic assault on your senses is so overwhelming that only later
will you be able to breathe and consider what a remarkable technical
achievement it is as well, staging all of its brutally plausible mayhem and
makeup-FX gore within a series of long, unbroken takes.
There are moments when the pace calms down a bit for moments
of character (the largely unknown cast is superb in their naturalistic
performances) as well as humor; I especially liked the moment where one
firefighter asks Ángela, if her show is called WHILE YOU’RE ASLEEP, who
actually watches it? Most of [REC], though, is thrillingly successful at
assuring that sleep will be hard to come by after watching it.
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