Last year my network of horror-aficionado friends started talking about a hard-to-find Spanish film called REC. The few reviews available were stellar, and I was intrigued with the idea of a Blair Witch-style film about zombies (as I mentioned in my Cloverfield review, the handicam approach to horror seems to be pretty viable). But, as far as I know, REC isn’t available in the US. It was remade this year (one year after the original release; predictably, the remake staring English-speakers is inferior to the original), so maybe now it will come out on DVD, but at the moment it’s a hard film to find in the States.

But not so in Japan! This weekend I sat down with a friend and watched the film, and while it didn’t totally blow me away, I found it to be an extremely capable zombie flick. There’s an immediacy about the movie, partially because it’s all handheld photography but also because events occur in succession faster than the characters are able to respond. A TV crew doing a show about how firefighters spend their evenings find themselves trapped in a small apartment building when the government blocks all of the exits and declares a quarantine. The crew, along with a couple of firefighters and the residents of the building, have no idea why they’ve been sealed off or when they’ll be able to leave. And the old woman upstairs seems to be having some problems; she keeps screaming at the top of her lungs.

Based on this fairly simple premise, REC takes off like a bolt and doesn’t really ever slow down. It’s one revelation after another, and though a few moments are pretty predictable for the most part the characters and the audience figure things out at the same pace. The end is a mixed bag; on the one hand it is one of the most tension-filled scenes in the film, but on the other it veers dangerously close to the trap of trying to explain everything.

This is how horror films should be made. Not that they all have to be shaky handicam productions, just that the formula is simple and the execution excellent. All extraneous bits (monsters, gore, sex scenes) have been removed in service to the central focus of the film: scaring the viewers. Though REC isn’t a perfect horror film, and though it’s not the type of movie that leaves you pondering the plot after the credits roll, I was pretty happy with it. Skip the remake (and even the trailer for the remake–they reveal some key scenes) and find yourself a copy of the DVD.

14 thoughts on “REC

  1. I didn’t realise that this movie was non-existant in the US. Over here in the UK, it had some good TV spots and decent cinema runs. We even had the 2 disc special edition treatment!

    It’s all on You Tube apparently. But watch it in a proper quality please, otherwise you’ll miss out on the minor details that fill in the blanks.

  2. I wish I was able to watch this movie. I get motion sickness every time I try, you see. Though from the tiny bit I saw, it looked as cool as you say. Quite scary indeed.

    I loved Cloverfield but I thought REC was a little overrated. Most of the Shaky cam was pretty badly used, and I thought that’s all it brought to a tired genre. It picked up in the end with a great finale but still didn’t think it was as captivating as Cloverfield. Still worth a look though.

  4. Is the remake called Quarantine? I thought that was freakinlishly scary. I haven’t got the chance to check out REC yet, maybe once the DVD comes out.

    The cam-style works, as long as it focuses on scaring the viewer.

  5. Before watching it, I didn’t know that it was zombie-themed, so I hadn’t any prejudices and I found it very “funny”, despite of its incoherences (the plot seems extracted from a survival horror, with those “we need a key” situations).

  6. You’re right – not available on DVD in America yet. Perhaps when Quarantine comes out on DVD. “Hand-Held Horror” (as I like to call it) DOES work well sometimes. Cloverfield, yes. Diary of The Dead, no. I was interested in [REC] the moment I saw the 1st trailer.

    Hey! Michigan was “hand-held.” Why’d it fail? I call for a remake!!! (I’m still defending a game I’ve never played. Die hard Suda fan, I guess.) Thanks for the article, Chris. Perhaps a new horror game will come out with that “hand-held” aspect to it throughout.

  7. I watched REC on the internet a while ago, having never heard of it before. I did a little imdb search and found out it was a subtitled Spanish zombie movie, which was enough to warrant my watching it.

    This movie was scary, and was a great example of that “homemade” film style done right. Didn’t see Quarantine, and don’t plan to.

  8. Good to read about one of our country achievements in a site like this.
    It’s quite cool, since there’s not much good horror cinema made in Spain.
    The sequel is being shot, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to make it in the same style.

    By the way, thank you Chris for your review about Hellnight. I’ve played it recently and it was a great discovery for me. True cosmic horror.

  9. i saw rec at a horror film festival a year ago and loved it. but when i watched them both and broke them down (which, being a student in film at university and a freelance filmmaker i do every-time i watch a movie nowadays) i noticed cloverfield would have been just as effective if it had been shot traditionally, possibly in the same cinematography style as children of men. but if you take it away its mediocre plot would have been much less forgiven, whilst recs p.o.v just made it it seem more claustrophobic and accentuated the fright factor of the movie.

    plus being a cameraman myself on a few jobs i could really put myself in the guys position and that made the final scenes way more terrifying.

    -but a sequel?, i doubt it’d work.

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