This is a review of the NC-17 (category III) release.
The award-winning, blockbuster Spanish horror film "REC" had already been remade for U.S. audiences under the nom de plume "Quarantine". I have seen both horror films, and I have decided to focus on reviewing the original film rather than comparing the two. Directed by Jaume Balaguero, "REC" is a film that adapts the first person, POV style shaky camera style that was first adapted by "Blair Witch Project" and later on also in "Cloverfield" and even Romero's "Diary of the Dead". The film has the B-grade movie feel, but the director made it work. After all, what better way to emulate realism with a DV camera than for the movie to look very unpolished and rough around the edges? I'll get right to the point, I enjoyed "Quarantine" but "REC" is a lot better.
A television reporter named Angela Vidal (sexy Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso) are covering a local fire station in Barcelona for a TV show called "While you're Asleep". Things seemed very uneventful, Angela is just hanging out with some local firemen, Alex and Manu (Ferrah Terraza) until the station receives a call to an apartment building where screams have been heard. The TV team tags along with the firemen and meets up with local police officers. Once there, they find an old woman seemingly frightened and attacks one of the policemen. Suddenly, Angela, the firemen and all the tenants of the building become trapped inside the building by a Hazmat crew and they have been isolated from the outside world. Things go from bad to worse as things go out of control as the tenants become mysteriously infected that makes them violently feral. Angela and Pablo may not survive the night…
[REC] and QUARANTINE compared shot by shot:
"REC" has the type of plot that is very simple and follows established groundwork for zombie films such as the "28 Days Later" franchise. A supposed virus that causes violent behavior isn't really original but the film's execution is very strong in generating suspense and claustrophobia. I am not really a big fan of the shaky POV style camera work but director Balaguero does pay attention to the smallest details as to how this style should be executed. There are some gaps in the camerawork, some sound being unrecorded and the camera does take certain shots that make the viewer feel that Pablo is indeed running for his life. When it comes to terror, "REC" does not disappoint, the camera does feel like it is a significant part of the film rather than a gimmick.
The film's style feels very rough and edgy. (Quarantine was polished and beautified) The film looks very simple and stays close to realism. The apartment looks very normal until the lights go off--then we see how the direction takes over in the horrifying sequences. The film is nicely paced and a little short at 79 minutes but I thought this was a clever move. The film is essentially a chase film with Angela, Pablo and Manu running for their lives with no way out, the outside world have no intention of helping for fear of a pandemic. Its short runtime makes the film leaner, more intense and faster-paced to generate the scares that it never lets up. The film has the recommended doses of BLOOD and Gore which are perfectly timed and placed. As for its plot, "REC" downplays any solid explanations as to the source of the virus until the final act where it gives hints to the cause with a hidden laboratory. "REC" strongly states that "we're not sure what is going on.." and yes, any solid answers as to the virus will somewhat remain a mystery and lack solid closure. Is it something demonic or something biological?
Much of the film's strength would have to come from the lead characters. The film does have some rather less than impressive characters; an Asian couple, a homosexual super, an intern from a hospital, and much of their developments come from the interviews Angela performs while waiting around. These are your everyday normal folk, people we wouldn't pay attention to when we walk down the street--they look very real and a little silly, much like the folks we see everyday. Manuela Velasco looks, talks and behaves like a reporter; much of her emotions come from a reactionary performance and Velasco certainly pulls it off--the viewer will have no problems feeling sympathy towards her character.
"REC" is the type of horror film that is smart, simple and plays on all its strengths that it manages to make the simplicity of its plot a main part of its direction; along with its rough and edgy claustrophobic atmosphere. While it does have no involving subtext and engaging characters, the film is incredibly tense, that the direction manages to bring about chills and thrills that all its suspense would come from its fast-paced build-up that uses that genuine feeling of helplessness. The final act of the film also serves up the incredible reward as you become privy to one of the freakiest images ever seen on " make believe" POV camera". This Spanish horror film may not be offer anything groundbreaking, but it certainly is solid, competent and entertainingly freaky!
Highly Recommended! [4- Stars]
HYPE LEVEL: Very Low. American studios played a game to release the remake almost two full years before the release of the original on DVD. A lot of people don't even know about the existence of this movie.
Note: I own the region-3 Uncut Release published by EDKO (Hong Kong) Dimension Extreme is expected to release this film in the U.S.
UPDATE: For a review of the sequel [REC] 2, please click here.
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