“A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying.” — IMDb
Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza (who also co-wrote the film with the help of Luiso Berdejo), [REC] is a Spanish found footage style film that centers around a group of terrified apartment residents as an unknown terror sweeps its way through the building. It spawned not one but THREE sequels and I won’t lie… I don’t quite understand the hype.
The film primarily follows Ángela (Manuela Velasco), the host of a documentary series called While You’re Sleeping, as well as her off-screen cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) as they shadow a group of firefighters at the Barcelona fire station. Things are a bit slow, and while Ángela hopes for some action while they’re filming, she gets a bit more than she bargained for when they’re summoned to a nearby apartment block for what seems like a routine call…
** SPOILERS! **
This was definitely one of those movies where I watched it, thought “yeah, okay, that was alright”, and then was floored by how many glowing reviews and ratings it has. I mean, 8-, 9-, and 10-star reviews all over IMDb (Rotten Tomatoes wasn’t quite as adoring). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I love the found footage genre. I’m a fan of Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, Afflicted, Grave Encounters, The Blair Witch Project… but this one just didn’t do much for me.
I guess my biggest complaint is that it felt very formulaic. You could basically predict everything that was going to happen next, including the zombies activating at exactly the perfect moment each time. I mean, the little girl was sick the entire time they were quarantined but happens to become violent right as they are questioning the mother? Not to mention the police officer straight up turning his back on the infected girl, resulting in him being bit as well… or the guy who had previously been ranting about his disdain for his Chinese neighbors turning his back on the infected health inspector. Haven’t y’all ever seen a zombie movie before?
I know found footage horror is known for its shakiness but damn, this one takes the cake. It felt like 90% of the movie was the camera being jostled around, and if people weren’t shouting back and forth at each other, Ángela was alternating between screaming at Pablo to keep filming or giving him some other command (“fix the light!”, “come here!”, “get this!”). Also, am I really supposed to believe that the police officer would try to discourage Pablo from filming as many times as he did, even in the midst of a straight up fight-for-your-life-because-zombies-are-attacking emergency? Maybe at first, when he was still trying to be the voice of authority, but after shit hit the fan I don’t buy it.
I’ll give it some small props for creating what was a truly creepy atmosphere, but… that wasn’t THAT hard to do. Any situation where people are trapped against their will with an unknown contagion is going to freak me the fuck out, so the bar was fairly low. But I liked the sense of claustrophobia created by the fact that once Ángela and Pablo entered the apartment building, we never again saw the outside of it… only being occasionally reminded of the fact that anything exists outside the horror trapped within those walls when we’d hear commands being barked over megaphones by the police barricade outside. Pretty cool. The shot looking down the spiral staircase as they are running to the penthouse is great, too — the dread created by that single shot, with zombified neighbors lurching upstairs at an alarming speed, is impressive.
It was an intriguing twist to have the outbreak caused by this mysterious man trying to isolate the physiological cause of demonic possession in order to cure it… but it was too little too late for me in the face of little to no character development, predictable plot, and mediocre scares. I’ll probably give at least one of the sequels a shot, but I’m not expecting much, sadly.
Rating: 4/10 | Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza | Writer: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, Luiso Berdejo | Cinematography: Pablo Rosso | Starring: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, Carlos Vicente