‘REC’ Turns Found-Footage Horror On Zombies With Style
Since The Blair Witch Project officially began the trend of found-footage horror movies, there have been few that have come close to touching it; Cloverfield, for all its glory, was just a shade too epic and a little too self-conscious for the format. Trollhunter followed its predecessors too closely. The Last Exorcism didn’t have quite enough horror for the new trend started by Paranormal Activity, and The Devil Inside just plain sucked. It seemed natural that zombies would join the fold at some point, but it was hard to imagine that two of the most popular modern horror aesthetics could be combined with any real invention. In spite of this, REC is the best found-footage horror film since 1999 and one of the best zombie movies of its age.
One of the first conceits of a good found-footage horror film is that the format suits the material and a good excuse can be established in said material, and REC does that; we start with a reporter for a late night television show seeking some exposure by following a crew of firefighters in the wee hours of the morning. When called out for a routine public service, it is quickly discovered that the apartment complex from which the call originated is undergoing a zombie outbreak, though they never utter the word, and before they can get out, the building is quarantined and they are trapped within.
In terms of the format, there can be few films better than REC. Naturally all the characters are aware they’re being filmed, and while the reporter fulfills her need to document, a mother seeks exposure for their mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement, a dapper tenant tries to look good for the camera, an elderly couple bemoans the inconvenience, and a cop takes every opportunity to stop filming. In short, there’s someone to represent every reaction, and it’s done without pandering.
While the story and the characters in REC appreciably fulfill their quota, the horror is ever-present. Once the old woman appears on camera, REC accelerates to a breakneck pace and never pauses, and the use of a single camera is exploited for every possible shock; in films like these, it’s surprisingly rare that the makers take advantage of the single point of view to hide things from the audience, and the directors keep a tenuous balance between the expected shocks and the unexpected ones, best exemplified by one character’s fall down a staircase.
On the zombie level, the film is especially satisfying; the best of the genre, with the obvious exception of 28 Days Later, never make it clear how the condition spreads. In REC, it may seem a forgone conclusion in the first half hour, but the showy climax takes it to the next level with surprisingly deft exposition.
The major addition of the writers, that blood type determines the length of time until transformation, is subtle and allows for another level of surprise. On a personal note, there will always be a special place in my heart for horror films that have no boundaries in terms of putting children, animals, and main characters in harm’s way, and there can be no doubt that this realistic choice is abided.
What truly sets REC apart from its counterparts is that the concept is flawlessly executed throughout; even if you disagree with a character’s actions or motives, it’s hard to argue that their logic isn’t sound given the situation, and even harder to argue given the fact that the film’s quick pacing diffuses the downtime necessary to think about it, and at a tidy 78 minutes, there is literally no fat on display, and that is a priceless asset for any film. Considering that REC is a found-footage zombie film, it’s hard to pick another horror film of the past several years that has been as flawlessly executed and fiercely terrifying.
Most audiences will likely recognize the film by its substandard remake, Quarantine, that failed by emerging as a carbon copy with the exception of a more heavy-handed finale. The Americanization doesn’t matter, because almost every version of the film, including the DVD, Blu-ray, and the Amazon instant video, has a perfectly acceptable English language track and subtitles. Even without, REC is worth the linguistic adventure.