Hurtling out of a pitch black crawl space somewhere in Spain to sink it’s teeth into the overpopulated genres of the zombie film and the found footage movie, [Rec] was a much needed boot in the gnashers for an audience growing increasingly jaded of wobbly camerawork and first person frights.
Not only was [Rec] a legitimate bloody feather in the cap of the Spanish horror genre, but it stands tall to this day as being one of the greatest first person horror movies ever made that managed to spawn an admittedly odd franchise (the third installment is a then-first person black comedy set at a wedding for some reason…) and that still manages to retain it’s scares over ten years later.
Àngela Vidal is a reporter for a show called “While You Are Sleeping” which focuses on the people who work the night shift and the b-roll footage she and her cameraman, Pablo, are gathering is for an episode about the people working in a fire station. The night starts off painfully slow as you’d expect and the small, two person crew amble around the building waiting for something to happen – and happen it eventually does as the alarm sounds and they head out with Firemen Manu and Àlex to address a call about a screaming old woman who is seemingly trapped in her apartment. Upon arriving they find that two police officers have already arrived on the scene and have already assembled all of the building’s squabbling residents in the lobby, so they head upstairs to find out exactly what is going on with with this trapped old bird.
What is going on is that she’s contracted a mystery virus that’s turned her into a bloodsoaked, feral lunatic and she immediately shows her appreciation for being freed by ripping out the neck of one of the officers with her teeth. As they struggle to staunch the blood flow, they discover that the building has been sealed up from the outside by people in hazmat suits and the residents predictably start to panic when it dawns on them that they are both trapped and knee deep in zombie shit. After the old lady claims another victim by launching him off a second floor balcony and having him splat out of nowhere in the middle of the lobby, the remaining policeman draws his gun and tries to regain order but things are rapidly getting out of control. Does the wincingly racist claim from one elderly flat dweller that the Asian family in the building may be responsible for the virus actually hold water? Does a sick little girl only have tonsillitis like her mother insists? And what of the bitten victims, what the fuck is their deal – are they suddenly gonna leap to their feet and start savaging everyone in sight?
Obviously the answer to that last one is a resounding yes and as the night goes on and more and more of the building’s residents go full flesh eating ghoul, the survivors find themselves being driven up, floor by floor until the only refuge left is the abandoned penthouse. Surely they’re safe in there… right?
[Rec] is one of those beautiful, simple little horror gems that, if you treat it right and watch it sparingly in optimum surroundings, will probably always manage to give you the creeps. The film also manages to play like every virtual reality horror film that’s emerged over the last ten years (surely no coincidence) with the movie’s shock moments virtually plundered wholesale for the videogame market. It’s a perfectly understandable thing for game designers to do because directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza bust out some cracking and legitimately jarring jump scares that can fill a perfectly fine pair of underpants in the blink of an eye.
While the movie certainly plays like a zombie film (and for arguments sake I’ll still refer to it as one), the creatures are actually the result of a virus borne from a possesed girl imprisoned by the Vatican for study, a neat little concept that the sequel makes full use of. The reason I bring this up is that [Rec] was released the same year as zombie-meister George A. Romero’s Diary Of The Dead, a slightly more conventional living dead flick film in first person that, for all of it’s quirky ideas, gets absoluted buried by this simpler and way more scary Spanish cousin.
However, despite how lean (under 80 minutes) and mean the movie is and how effective it’s scares are, you could hardly accuse [Rec] of reinventing the wheel and the movie diligently follows the found footage tropes to the letter. We start off with the usual awkward beginning where less than nothing happens for about a good twenty minutes and then the story gradually turns up the heat until we get to a final act of incoherent screeching, random flashes of sweat and tear streaked faces and enough lurching camera moves to induce motion sickness in a salty sea captain; while finally ending on a blood curdling image to send you out appropriately traumatised.
But while the basic frame work of the film is a little by the books, the script throws little extra details in there to mix things up such as the slow-drip reveal as to what’s actually causing all of this horrible shit to go down in the first place (again – much the a video games that followed) which leads to a reveal in the last ten minutes that almost makes you cough your heart right out of your chest. I am, of course, refering to the emaciated creature that lopes into view soaked in hues of putrid green thanks to the night vision setting on the camera which evokes genuine reactions of “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!” from everyone who’s seen it. The creature, known as Tristana and played by spider-limbed, creature performer extraordinaire Javier Botet), caused a rash of lookalike wraiths to descend on various scary movies in it’s wake (including, ironically enough, Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch sequel) but [Rec]’s anorexic beastie, all drooping breasts, sagging Y-fronts and a goiter the size of Dwayne Johnson’s forearm, still remains an evergreen slice of iconic, bladder emptying horror.
Aside from it’s last minute ace in the hole (or should that be ghoul in the penthouse), it’s [Rec]’s relentless pace that’s heavily seasoned with memorable images that provides it’s winning formula (a quick peek of the camera down a stairwell to reveal every screaming, infected bastard in the place rushing up to get them is simply breathtaking) and it’s an experience that’ll leave you well and truly [Rec]-ed.