On the eighteenth day of Halloween, some hellishly long takes gave to me: [REC] (Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza, 2007)
To round up my zombie-themed series of reviews, I’ve chosen one of my favorite horror movies of all time. Not only is this an entry in my 31 Days of Halloween list, but also a G.O.A.T. For those who are unfamiliar, G.O.A.T stands for “Greatest of all time,” and is how I designate my favorite films without committing to ranking them because I have a lot of favorites.
I first stumbled onto [REC] when I was working on a film paper in high school. This was the same paper that I got to interview one of the directors of The Blair Witch Project for, and the requirements of the paper were such that I had to include foreign films alongside American films. [REC] fell into the foreign category: filmed in Spain, this Spanish-language found-footage horror film was popular enough to be remade into the English-language Quarantine. I decided to use the original version to meet the requirements of my project, and holy shit I am so glad I did.
[REC] is pure magic for me: the pants-shittingly-horrifying sort of magic. While I’ve watched this movie so many times that it doesn’t hold quite the same scare factor (I show this movie to damn near everyone who has the misfortune of being friends with me) I still consider it a G.O.A.T.
This movie combines two of my favorite things: found footage and zombies. Here’s a summary:
Nighttime news reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) is stuck filimng the nighttime crew of a firefighting station for her fluff segment, While You Were Sleeping. Hoping to capture some action, Angela is relieved when the station finally receives a call, and follows two firefighters Alex (David Vert) and Manu (Ferran Terraza) into the apartment that sent out the call. As the firefighters investigate, strange things begin to happen: when the building is mysteriously quarantined, Angela realizes she’s going to get more action than she ever bargained for.
[REC] is so beautifully simple. Reporter goes into building. Building gets locked down. Zombies.Fin.
It’s a basic concept that is executed with supreme terror. Much like in The Blair Witch Project, directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza withheld information from their actors, and placed them in situations that would evoke real fear. For instance, a great deal of this film is shot in in the dark, with either a single source of light or in night vision. That means that Balaguero and Plaza’s actors were actually shooting in the dark, and were thus reacting to things as they happened.
Many of the takes in [REC] are also ridiculously long and full of a great deal of improv. From a filmmaker’s perspective, long takes are hell because so many things have to go right in order for the shot to work. [REC] pulls off several long takes with great success: they flow so well that if often doesn’t feel like a lengthy shot.
There is no music in [REC], which means no aural cues to tell us that something is about to happen. We are instead greeted by silence, which is in my opinion far more terrifying. The sound mixing is excellent, the engineers boosting certain dietetic sounds instead to create a sense of tension (pay attention to the sound of helicopters) in lieu of music.
In addition, the choice to set the action in a small, locked-off apartment block is also brilliant: it bottles up the action, and amps up the sense of tension throughout the whole film. It also provides an easy explanation for the cast of characters that assemble- they’re tenants. No further explanation needed. The tenants are a predictably varied bunch of folks, and keep things interesting until more pressing concerns nibble their way onscreen.
Speaking of the “pressing concerns” in [REC] , let’s talk zombies. In some respect, the walking dead in [REC] are pretty normal for modern zombies: they bite, have weird eyes, are aggressive. That said, these guys are particularly ferocious , I gotta say. There’s a lot of roaring and snarling, all of which echoes delightfully in the apartment building’s stairwell.
The most unique aspect of [REC]’s zombies is their origin: it’s part biology, part demonology. The source of the “zombie” disease was a young possessed girl, whom the Vatican has been keeping tabs on. One of their priests was working in the penthouse of the apartment block, which is the source of the outbreak. While I don’t want to describe the ending (I watched it in broad daylight and still almost lost my shit), the last ten minutes of [REC] are probably some of the most sphincter-tightening, bone-chilling, “whatthefuckwhatthefuckwhatthefuck” I’ve seen in a horror movie. I cannot give enough praise to Javier Botet for his work in [REC].
I’d also like to thank the parents of every member of the FX makeup team, because they do a number on this cast, particularly towards the end. It’s beautifully terrifying stuff, and I cannot give them enough praise.
The only “heads-up” I have for [REC] (besides gore) is the depiction of violence against a child. Because again, zombie children are apparently legally required to make an appearance in every zombie movie ever.
[REC]’s brother and estranged cousins
It’s worth mentioning that [REC] has three sequels. [REC]2 is the strongest of the sequels, and it can basically function as a direct Part 2 to the first one, if you watched them in a row. [REC] 3, on the other hand, is a fluffier film not shot in the found footage style. It’s low-key cheesy, but you could definitely watch far worse. [REC] 4 picks back up on the action of [REC] and [REC] 2, but just isn’t as engaging. Still not awful though, and could probably serve as a solid “night-in” movie.
I’m basically advising you to watch them all, because they all rank at the Solidly Good level, but then vary from there. So go ahead, marathon that shit.
As for the remake, I’m personally not a big fan of Quarantine, but to each their own.
This movie is so good. So Good.
[REC] has an energy to it that few other films do. This movie says “fuck you!” to the concept of a slow-burn, and barrels down the highway at 100 miles an hour while flipping the bird to the Slow Burn cops. [REC] goes for the throat. It’s such a simple premise, but one that is carried out with such gusto that the simplicity becomes an advantage rather than a drag. It’s gory, it’s incredibly intense, it’s primal: all things I like in my horror films. [REC] has been a G.O.A.T in my pasture for a long time, and I cannot recommend it enough.
So what are you waiting for? Go get REC’d.
Featured image source: http://www.movie-poster-artwork-finder.com/rec-poster-artwork-manuela-velasco-ferran-terraza-jorge-serrano/