Friday, December 18, 2015

Classic Movie Review Duo: Rec (2007) & Rec 2 (2009)

[Rec] (2007)
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza.
Written by: Jaume Balagueró & Luiso Berdejo & Paco Plaza.
Starring: Manuela Velasco (Ángela Vidal), Ferran Terraza (Manu), Jorge-Yamam Serrano (Policía Joven), Pablo Rosso (Pablo), David Vert (Álex), Vicente Gil (Policía Adulto), Martha Carbonell (Sra. Izquierdo), Carlos Vicente (Guillem Marimon), María Teresa Ortega (Abuela), Manuel Bronchud (Abuelo), Akemi Goto (Japonesa), Chen Min Kao (Japonés), Maria Lanau (Madre histérica), Claudia Silva (Jennifer).

[Rec] 2 (2009)
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza.
Written by: Jaume Balagueró & Manu Díez & Paco Plaza.
Starring: Jonathan D. Mellor (Dr. Owen), Óscar Zafra (Jefe), Ariel Casas (Larra), Alejandro Casaseca (Martos), Pablo Rosso (Rosso), Pep Molina (Padre Jennifer), Andrea Ros (Mire), Àlex Batllori (Ori), Pau Poch (Tito), Juli Fàbregas (Bombero), Ferran Terraza (Manu), Claudia Silva (Jennifer), Anna García (Mari Carmen), Manuela Velasco (Angela Vidal).

Back in 2008, I made the mistake of seeing Quarantine – the then new horror film, starring Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter – before seeing [Rec], the film Quarantine was a remake of. Typically, I do try and see the original before watching the remake – but that’s doesn’t always happen. I didn’t much like Quarantine, and that dislike has kept me away from the [Rec] series as a whole ever since. I always meant to go back and see them – a desire that was renewed every time a new [Rec] film opened (there have now been four – and according to Wikipedia anyway, that’s it). Seeing as how I saw Quarantine seven years ago, I didn’t really remember why I didn’t like the film, so I went back and read my review – in which I basically said I liked the idea, and didn’t like the execution. Well, I finally – at least partially - rectified my over, watching the first two [Rec] films back to back – which works remarkably well, since although made two years apart, the story in 2 picks up almost precisely where the original leaves off. Together, they two films are all take place on one long night.
The first films follows Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), an intrepid, beautiful young reporter filming a show called “While You’re Asleep” – which is seemingly about things that happen at night. This night, she is spending her time with the local fire department – going through their mundane, nightly routines if they don’t have a call, and praying for something interesting to happen. Finally, they do in fact get a call – and the firefighters head into the building, with Angela and her cameraman right behind her. The woman they have come to help goes insane pretty quickly – and attacks the men, biting one before she can be subdued. And before anyone knows anything, the entire building has been sealed with all the residents, the firefighters and Angels stuck inside. Just a precaution they are told – but they don’t believe it. It appears something bad is going on here – and the one crazy lady isn’t the last one we’ll meet.

The film is in the “found footage” genre, and it’s better than most of the films that the genre has produced. The entire movie is from the POV of Angela’s unseen cameraman – and the film figures its way out of a problem that many found footage horror films never do – why it’s all being filmed. At first, it’s a new story – and an exclusive at that, as no one else is in the building. This is a way to document everything that is happening – and Angela wants it all captured. As the movie progresses, the power goes out – the camera has a light on it, when no one else does, thusly pointing the camera at the action makes sense. And finally, in the climax, when the light is no broken, the camera’s night vision capabilities work wonders as well.

The second film picks up right where the first one leaves off – but with a different POV. A SWAT team is being sent
to the apartment building – where they will enter and follow the orders of whoever is in charge. This is Owen (Jonathan D. Mellor), who tells them there has been an outbreak in the building, and they need to find something and then get out. This part of the movie is told from the POV of the various cameras the SWAT team is wearing – mainly sticking to one, but will switch if need be. Later on in the film, the POV will change to group of teenagers with a camera –who sneak into the building, making the biggest mistake of their lives.

The primary benefit of the first two [Rec] movies is the speed at which the action takes place. Both have a few minutes to setup their basic premise, and then dive headlong into the action, and do not let up for the rest of their running time. Directors Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza are smart enough to keep the running time low – neither movies hits 85 minutes in length – and they never wear out their welcome. From the moment the horror starts in both films, you get the sense that anything can happen – anyone can die, and something is always lurking around every corner. Escape is impossible – and survival seemingly is as well.

The films are zombie films to be sure – and follow the tropes of those films in many respects. Yes, these are “fast” zombies – or at least not slow, Romero-like zombies which are clearly far superior in every respect (deal with it) – but for a movie like this, that is the right choice. The first movie doesn’t give many indications of why all of this is happening until the end of the movie – when the religious undertones take center stage for a few minutes. This is much foregrounded in the sequel, and the [Rec] films become films about the waning influence of religion – and the mistakes made by the church. At least they are when they’re not trying to scare you, which is roughly 95% of the time.

And they work. I don’t think either film is a masterwork by any means – but both films build suspense rapidly, and keep you in their grip for 85 minutes or so, giving you all the scares and blood and viscera you could possibly want. Unlike truly great horror movies, I don’t think the movies really get under your skin – or haunt your nightmares (they didn’t with me anyway) – but they are effective when they’re playing. I know I won’t wait 7 years before I watch the third and fourth installments.

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