Main cast: Manuela Velasco (Ángela Vidal), Ferrán Terraza (Manu), Pablo Rosso (Pablo), David Vert (Álex), Martha Carbonell (Mrs Izquierdo), Carlos Vicente (Guillem Marimón), María Lanau (Mari Carmen), Claudia Silva (Jennifer), Carlos Lasarte (César), and Javier Botet (Tristana Medeiros)
Directors: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Reality TV-style horror movies are annoyingly ubiquitous, maybe because some folks believe that shaky camera views reminiscent of epileptic seizures and blurry dark silhouettes are artistic interpretations of horror, and there are so many crappy ones out there. REC, the brainchild of the two directors and Luis A Berdejo, all three who also wrote the script, however, brings a fresh and genuinely frightening twist to a genre that has fast become stale. On paper, the The Blair Witch Dawn of the Resident Evil Dead concept sounds absurd, but who do I know – it works very well here.
It’s just another day at work for Ángela Vidal, the host of the candid reality TV show While You’re Asleep, and her camera man Pablo, as they head over to the local fire station to cover the firefighters’ night shift. They tag along when a call came to help the cops at a nearby apartment block. An old woman called, apparently trapped in her apartment, and the cops need some muscle to break down the door. Seems like an easy job, until the old woman reveals herself to be infected with some kind of… thing… that causes her to turn into some savage zombie-like creature and start biting people. Before long, the infection spreads even as the building is shut down and its inhabitants quarantined by the local health officers, leaving those inside to fend for themselves. Will Ángela and Pablo win the Pulitzer Prize for their efforts in the front line, or will they become zombie chow instead?
While most movies of this sort offer some stupid and even ridiculous justifications for the camera to keep filming even as people start dying around the main characters, here this narrative device works perfectly up to the last few minutes of the movie. The camera work can be wobbly at times, but it’s not too wobbly and the movie is nicely coherent as a result. The slow build-up is nicely done as it allows me to be slowly drawn into the movie, and when all hells break loose, it really feels like one. Everything’s fine, and then, damn, it’s all downhill as the zombies start chomping on everyone. A nice touch is how the authorities that sealed off the apartment block are portrayed only in uncaring silhouettes, heightening the sense of desolate claustrophobia that permeates the whole movie once the action breaks out. The atmosphere and the snowballing fast-paced momentum of the movie are well done.
While the characters are mostly one-dimensional types, Ángela and Pablo are adequate as anchor characters and placeholders for the audience. When they are scared, I feel the same way too.
What keeps this movie from being truly great, though, is that ultimately, it lacks substance and depth. It’s just another zombie movie, only with a demonic possession bent, that goes through the laundry list of clichés. Not that being just another zombie movie is a bad thing, as this is a brilliantly executed and genuinely scary movie. It’s just that… well, there’s no harm in having more meat to the plot, is there? But no matter, this one works very well in doing what it set out to do, and that’s good enough for me.