Dudes, this movie’s awesome.
*Spoilers for [REC] will be in the clearly marked Spoiler Section at the end of this review. Up until that point, everything is spoiler free.
So, here’s the plot of [REC]: a reporter, Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso), are doing a story on the fire department when a call comes in about an old woman who’s trapped inside of her apartment and is possibly injured. Angela and Pablo tag along, only to find themselves quarantined along with the other residents in the building . . . and not all of those residents are quite, ah, well.
[REC] is one of those shaky-cam movies (people call it cinema verite, which sort of makes me laugh . . . in most subjects, you bring the Latin when you want to sound like you’re in the know. In film-speak, you bust out the French. I wonder what the French translation for gore porn is) and the entire story is seen through one of the character’s video camera. This is sort of a trend with horror movies these days, what with The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Diary of the Dead, and Cloverfield . . . but as the only movie I’ve seen out of these is The Blair Witch Project, I don’t know that I can comment too much on that trend. I can say that I thought the set-up worked very well in this movie: the audience’s limited visibility worked to really ratchet up the tension, and directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza are pretty good at making the continued use of the camera realistic in the story.
[REC] isn’t very interested in exploring the deeper motivations of its characters. The people in the story all behave realistically, but that doesn’t make it a character-driven piece. There aren’t a lot of humorous moments, and there certainly aren’t any witty punch lines. There are no clever puns, no tearful back-stories, no long, inspirational speeches.
So, what is there, then?
Violence. Sudden, startling moments of violence, and suspense up the damn wazoo. I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat. Rather, I was in the middle of my seat, my knees drawn up to my chest, chin propped up on fists, biting my lip and grinning like a maniac.
This is the kind of reaction I like from my horror movies.
1. Our heroine, Angela Vidal, is relatively likeable. She has a pretty adorable smile, not that you see much of that after the first ten minutes. I like when she gets freaked out or pissed off: her sweet little voice turns into such a deep-sounding scream.
However, Angela’s survival instincts aren’t nearly as strong as they could be. She doesn’t do anything too slap-worthy, but she does have a way of speaking loudly at inopportune moments. While this is just generally unwise in any kind of horror film, you think she would know better when she’s just doing her job. I mean, she’s a television reporter. Shouldn’t she already know that an important element of spying is learning to shut the fuck up?
2. Pablo, the cameraman, is the best character that you’ll never see. I think of all the characters in the film, I was rooting for Pablo the most. I’m terribly intrigued by the idea that my favorite character was the guy behind the camera the entire damn movie.
3. Also: I like Manu (Ferran Terraza) as well. Manu kicks ass. I would take Manu into a deadly quarantine situation with me . . . if I was willingly going into a deadly quarantine situation for some unknown reason.
4. Ah, but that brings up an interesting point, at least for me: I would never have made it as a journalist. I know this because the second anybody came running at me with a knife or claws or just the possible intention of trying to eat me, I would have dropped that camera faster than you can say, “Fuck me!” and been out the door . . . or at least trying to get out the door. Of course, we can’t actually break the camera in a film like this, lest the story kind of end before it’s halfway through, but there’s this whole journalistic ideal in these types of movies, you know, “People have to know. Tape everything. You’ll have to pry this camera from my cold, dead fingers.”
And I’m like, “You know, actually? I prefer my fingers to be all, like, warm and living. Take the camera; take it.” My integrity is for shit.
5. In a similar vein . . . I’m sure that those newspaper clippings posted on the walls are very interesting and may, in fact, explain the origins of the plot. But right now, right when you’re locking yourself in a room as people outside are trying to kill you, maybe you should be less concerned with the origins of the plot and more concerned with searching the place for other bad guys and fucking staying ALIVE.
6. I like that there’s a little bit of mystery as to who’s responsible for the illness, if anyone can be held accountable for an illness. There’s old crazy upstairs. There’s a little girl with tonsillitis. The little girl’s dog is at the vet. An Asian woman’s elderly father is sick in bed. The mystery makes for a nice spot of tension between the characters, but it also isn’t ridiculously overplayed. I liked that.
7. That Asian woman I mentioned? I’m not sure if her family originated from China, Japan, or another country. I’m not the only one who’s unclear. One of the other characters (I don’t remember his name) isn’t sure, either, but he is pretty sure that they’re to blame for everything that’s happening, you know, with their smelly fish and whatnot. If only they were “the nice kind that do Feng Shui and cool stuff . . . but no.”
And wow. Just, wow.
8. It’s always funny when a character tries to command a position of authority in a crazy, chaotic situation like this. They whine, “Remember, I’m in charge,” because they’re supposed to be in charge, even though “supposed to be” flew out the window and got run over by a tractor trailer twenty minutes ago. Still, always remember: if this same person pulls out a gun, then they really are in charge now. I wonder if that’s where the phrase ‘the man who calls the shots’ comes from? I’ve never really thought about it before.
9. Word of the Day: tranquila. At least, I think it’s tranquila. That’s how I was hearing it, anyway. Pablo says it to Angela, like, fifty times during the course of the film. I’m afraid my Spanish leaves something to be desired, although I caught a hell of a lot more than what I get when I watch Japanese horror films, which made for a welcome change. So, ha.
10. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what’s happening (even though about half the summaries I read tell you pretty much everything) but [REC] definitely falls under a certain category of horror movie, and someday I would like to see a film in this category without a character who just happens to be a doctor. Yes, I know. Guillem isn’t a real doctor; he’s an intern. Still. No doctors, no nurses, no paramedics, vets, medical corpsman, whatever. No one with any medical background of any kind. Just to spice things up a little.
11. This is the first horror movie I’ve watched in awhile where the music didn’t stand out all. Of course, this makes sense in a shaky cam movie . . . Angela and Pablo didn’t also bring along Marco, the Soundtrack Guy . . . but since so many horror movies seem to have such excellent scores, I just thought it was worth mentioning.
12. [REC] was remade in America as Quarantine with Jennifer Carpenter in the lead role. I haven’t seen it yet, and I don’t know if it follows this one very closely or not. But due to a certain scene that I remember from the trailer, I suspect that some things are pretty similar. Did anyone watch it? Is it any good?
13. Finally, a confession: I didn’t get what [REC] meant until the very end of the film. I hadn’t seen a picture of the title next to a red dot until the credits, so I kept trying to figure out if ‘REC’ was short for a Spanish word that I didn’t know for video camera or newscast or something. I am beyond lame and am, in fact, quite ashamed of myself.
But hey. At least I’m not the moron who holds on to the camera when people are trying to kill me. Survival instincts, people. That’s all I’m saying.
Spoilers To Be Following Now.
So, first off: if you didn’t already know, this is a zombie film. I mean, you can argue the zombie, I guess—people just love to argue what counts as a zombie and what doesn’t—but for my money, it’s a zombie film. And it’s awesome.
Second: the zombies in this story are fast little fuckers, and the deaths also tend to be on the speedy side. The violence is so startling because it comes at you so quickly. One minute, everyone’s mostly fine, trying to figure out what’s going on with the quarantine because they have a cop bleeding out here and he needs medical attention, and the next second a firefighter goes SPLAT on the ground floor because Zombie Granny tossed his ass over the side of the stairwell. (By the way, that was one of the best moments in the whole movie. It very much set the tone for the rest of the film.)
Third: no one makes it out of this one alive. Manu makes a valiant effort—he punches a zombie in the face, even, which totally reminded me of when Ahnold punches a camel in the face in Conan the Barbarian—but all for naught. He bites it on the stairwell. Poor Manu.
Pablo and Angela make it all the way up to the locked penthouse apartment, which ends up being a mad science laboratory with crosses and candles and Jesus pics, like, everywhere. At this point, Mekaela and I looked at each other and were like, “Oh, shiiit. You’re screwed.” Cause here’s a helpful hint, victims: MAD LABORATORY + JESUS PICS = IMMINENT, BLOODY DEMISE. Not that Pablo and Angela had much choice. They had to go somewhere.
And I guess they didn’t have to check out what that sound was in the attic above them, but honestly? Pablo and Angela were pretty much just fucked from the get-go. Pablo bites the big one, and we never even get to see what the asshole looks like. Dammit. I liked Pablo. I will mourn your invisible face, my friend.
Finally, in the last shot, Angela is crawling towards the camera that’s crashed to the ground. She hears some kind of crying, freezes, and then is dragged backwards, screaming, away from the camera. And that’s the end of cute-smiling Angela.
It’s a really good last shot, so I don’t mind that it’s more or less the end I was expecting from the get-go. I do mind that last, tacked-on line, though, repeated from earlier in the film: “We have to tape everything, Pablo. For fuck’s sake.” I just don’t find it necessary at all. It feels like the directors really wanted to nail their message home with the audience, and so they picked up a hammer about the size of my damn head and pounded it the hell in there. Subtlety is what I’m getting at, people. Give your audience some credit. We’re, generally, smarter than you think we are.
That line, though, was really my only problem with the whole movie, so I guess I’ll let it slide. Yes, I found the ending a touch predictable, but it was still creepy and it fit the movie really well. I think, however, that when I finally watch Paranormal Activity, Diary of the Dead, and all those other shaky-cam flicks, I’m going to end up being disappointed. I just assume that they will all end in a similar manner. Maybe not. Maybe I’m wrong.
Ha. As if that ever happens.
[REC] Final Grade: A
Moral of the Story: Reporters die. Don’t be one of them.