If there's a chance that you might watch [REC], stop reading now. I won't be going nuts with spoilers or anything like that, but this is one of those movies which in the beginning seem nice and normal. It's done convincingly, too. This is another camcorder movie, like Cloverfield or the Blair Witch Project, and it's a style with the potential to suck you into the fiction in a manner not quite like anything else. The set-up here is that an adorably cute Spanish girl is doing a documentary on firefighters and if she's lucky, might even get to go on a call-out with them!
As it happens, she has that extreme fortune. I won't go into details about what happens next, but suffice to say that this ends up being one of the stronger horror movies I've seen in quite a while.
It would have been wonderful to have seen this cold, not having a clue what I was getting into. Come to think of it, if you can find a friend who's never heard of this film, that could be a laugh. You'll need to get them out of the room while the DVD menu is on-screen, but once you've done that, press [PLAY] and then [PAUSE]. Call them back into the room and let it roll. The result should be a memorable viewing experience, although you might get throttled afterwards.
Anyway, if you like horror, watch this film.
Right, that should be enough spoiler space.
It's interesting to compare this film with its cinema verite brethren. It's basically Cloverfield. The monster is different and the dialogue's in Spanish, but underneath it's the same story being told in the same style. The two films are even the same length, 70 minutes plus credits, or at least they are in the UK cut. This kind of linear storytelling seems to make for shorter films. Apparently the versions sold to other countries are sometimes up to ten minutes longer, but I can only discuss the movie I watched and as I said, it's Cloverfield in a funny hat. Their trappings are sufficiently different to make both films worth watching, but in both cases we're talking about short pieces with linear stories and fundamentally the same ending.
It's a good ending, mind you. It's what a horror movie should be doing. However it's also the unimaginative option. I'd been expecting something different, you know. I was convinced that our heroes were going to fight their way out of the building to safety only to find (gasp) that "THE MONSTERS ARE EVERYWHERE!" Nope, that's not what happens. Admittedly my idea would have been an even bigger cliche, but I hope any future entries in this genre start ringing the changes soon. I've got Romero's Diary of the Dead waiting to be watched, you know. Maybe he'll have a zombie picking up the camera at the end? That would be very Romero, now I come to think of it.
Oh, what the hell. This is a zombie film too.
I have a theory that zombies are the ultimate movie monsters. The classic monsters are more interesting and lend themselves better to non-visual media. Zombies on the other hand don't drink blood, turn into wolves or indeed do anything distinctive at all. Their definition is entirely visual. It's a walking corpse. Zombies are God's gift to make-up artists, allowing all kinds of representations from the subtle to the outrageous, but all of them pack a more visceral punch than a guy with plastic fangs or werewolf hair. Then on top of that there's the apparent limitation that they're traditionally mindless, existing only to chomp on anything that moves. In novels, this tends to make them boring. In a film, this means you don't have to worry about them taking up story or character time, but can simply treat them as a force of nature. There's nothing you can do with a zombie except kill or be killed.
Admittedly there are exceptions to all this, such as the glory that is Return of the Living Dead III. Nevertheless [REC] demonstrates yet again why zombies are the scariest cinematic monsters. Sorry, all you vampires and werewolves. Just telling it like it is. Zombies in cinema verite style are especially nasty, since by definition you're getting up close and personal with them. The cameraman's in danger too, after all, and by extension that means us.
The film has an interesting range of zombies, by the way, with the first one looking completely human and having unusual behaviour by zombie standards. They're fast-moving, as seems to have become the norm these days, but the film's intense enough that I didn't even question this.
The camcorder stuff is outstanding. It's more convincing than Cloverfield's excellent efforts in this direction because the story's less goofy. Apparently they shot this film entirely on real locations. There's not a single studio set. The apartment block is what it seems to be. Those narrow stairways... brrr. Furthermore you had the producers pulling stunts like keeping it secret from the actors that they were about to drop someone down a stairwell, so what you see in that scene are the real reactions of the actors themselves.
Surprisingly though I got the impression that the shakycam was even worse than that in Cloverfield, despite this supposedly being a professional cameraman. Admittedly one's cinematography wouldn't be at its best in the middle of a zombie outbreak, but even so he's dodgy even before things get bad.
There's got to be a downside to all this, though. The problem is that movies and drama are inherently artificial. Cinema verite wants to look free of artifice, but this can leave your plot a bit on the thin side. Cloverfield at least had its heroes looking for a girl, but this film's characters doesn't really have anything. They're trying to stay alive. If you wanted to know about the story, that's your lot. I was blown away by this film, yet it could sometimes feel a tad hollow. This is not a story with a character-based story spine, although I did like some of its twiddly bits. There's irony in where the infection came from. There's a woman threatening legal action and accusing her immigrant neighbours of having brought in the disease, when all along it's... well, let's just say that she thinks her daughter has tonsilitis. Heh heh.
If this film has a theme, it's "us and them". The Japanese family with their broken Spanish can be made into scapegoats. The government outside proves to have a better grip on the situation than you'd have expected and thus takes some sensible but extreme measures that turn our heroes into "them". They're in the same building as zombies, so they're as good as zombies themselves. This is surprisingly sensible, but little consolation for the poor buggers on the inside. "Shortly a health inspector will come to assess the situation." One thing I really like about this film is the intelligence of the tactics employed against the undead menace, for instance in handcuffing bite victims to their beds. It's always nice to see a film in which the heroes aren't making suicidally stupid decisions.
The presenter is obviously... ooooh. Wow, she's cute. This is a non-trivial observation, incidentally, since we're going to be seeing her face a lot and it helps the film for this to be something worth looking forward to. Later we also get to peep down her top. She goes on a lot about her duty to show people the truth, but it's unclear how much she believes this since she also seems to be a self-interested bitch. She's pretty cold-blooded about getting her TV piece and always wants to keep filming no matter what. That can be a logic hurdle sometimes for camcorder films.
Despite what you'd think in the beginning, in the end there are surprisingly few firemen involved. We've got all the emergency services. However we do have one cool fireman, a tough bald man who can kill zombies with his bare hands (or a rope, or a mallet). It's like having Vin Diesel. He was great. Other characters include an uptight policeman who really doesn't like the fact that our heroes are filming, plus of course that aforementioned little girl. There's one scene in particular that had me squirming. Remember kids, if you're ever trapped in a Spanish apartment during a zombie outbreak, do not hold your hand out and approach the killer child. Gyaaah.
Despite that slight hollowness, on its own terms this is a triumph. Everything it attempts goes like gangbusters. The camcorder style succeeds so well that this doesn't feel like a movie, but real footage. Not everyone's happy about being filmed, for instance, and people will react to the camera. At one point the cameraman even has to climb to a window to see what's happening in the next room. Sometimes the camera malfunctions. Needless to say the Americans have already made an English-language remake, Quarantine (2008), but for once I'm not even slightly curious about it. For what it's worth, I've heard that it's a shot-for-shot remake.
This film is Cloverfield, but it's also very different to Cloverfield. That film was bigger, sillier and more flamboyant. This is more intimate. Zombies rule.