Movie Review: [REC]
By Nouvelle Vague
November 20, 2007

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

You say the words "found footage" to most horror buffs, and they immediately sigh and think back to 1999's The Blair Witch Project, which may have been a huge indie hit at the box office, but is most often seen as lacking in the entertainment department. So, it was a victim of its own hype, but I don't count myself as one of its detractors, and I like found footage movies. Yes, they're cheaply made, but when you strip a horror film of a large budget and studio conventions, you usually end up with a chiller which relies on tension and creativity to be effective. There's also a heightened level of intimacy with these films, especially if the film is advertised as "real" and the more emotionally invested you are in the film, the easier it is for you to be scared.

I'm not sure I would call three films in one calendar year a renaissance, but there have been three very good films in this genre: The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Paranormal Activity, and, the best, the Spanish import, [REC] that I've seen this year. [REC] is, for my money, the best horror film since Neil Marshall's The Descent.

[REC] starts with beautiful reporter Niña Medeiros (Javier Botet) shooting a segment for the late night TV show, While You're Sleeping, at a local fire station. It's a slow night, as Nina attempts to fill her segment with personal interviews and a basketball game. Even when finally a call comes in, it's a low priority call – tenants in a apartment building are complaining about screams coming from one of the apartments. So the police and the fire department are called in, and Niña and her cameraman, Pablo, decide to come along for the ride. When they arrive to the call, the neighbors have all congregated on the main level while the emergency staff – and the television crew – investigate upstairs and find an elderly woman in her apartment in a rabid state. While the situation might have the appearance of minimal concern, unfortunately, everyone in the building is about to come face to face with the most intense fear possible. There's something evil in the building, and there's no way out, except for death.

[REC] succeeds by expertly building tension in a manner that is structured like a slow build, but it explodes at times with several very intense scares. Filmmaker Jaume Balagueró (whose previous works gave no indication of output this good) keeps the script largely improvisational and allows the film to build by utilizing several scenes that keep the pacing varied and almost let the audience pace itself for the wild final act. The hand-held photography also allows a few jump scares that come naturally out of its jerky movements. Ultimately, the film builds up so much momentum that as it moves along, the body count accelerates and each new body just becomes another force that raises the stakes. Sounds like a zombie film? Yeah, we are all SICK of zombie films, but [REC] is something much more and much better. It certainly shares some traits with that genre, and the characters being trapped in one location harkens back to James Russo's and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, but this film shares more in common with Romero's The Crazies, David Cronenberg's Rabid and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later than a traditional zombie film, and the film's ending is rather unique and is downright freaky. Best of all, it doesn't really explain everything that's happened in the film, and, it's so scary it will leave you squirming in your seat.

Earlier this year, [REC] was picked up for a remake (appropriately called Quarantine) by Sony's Screen Gems, who wisely got the filmmakers behind the previously mentioned The Poughkeepsie Tapes, John and Drew Dowdle, to write and direct it. The Poughkeepsie Tapes will be getting a theatrical release from MGM sometime next year and while it hasn't been seen by the masses (it screened at the last Tribeca film festival and purchased for over seven figures), trust me when I say it's one the most bizarre horror films you'll see (it shares as much from Se7en, and Silence of the Lambs as it does with Eraserhead), and their sensibilities are a perfect match for this source material. Between Poughkeepsie, [REC], and its remake, it will be interesting to see the order of release of the three, linked together by genre, freakiness, and individuals. With the high quality of talent involved in these three films, and Paranormal Activity, I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of "found footage" films in our horror future.