“[Rec]” – A.J. Hakari

[Rec] is as airtight an argument against the concept of remakes as you can get. Before Sony rehashed it as 2008’s modest hit Quarantine, this Spanish-bred chiller was freaking out fans with its unique first-person perspective (beating Cloverfield to the punch by a few months). Quarantine stuck to its predecessor like ugly on an ape, but everything it does, [Rec] does better. Even with following its source material virtually to the letter, the American version still falls short of matching its intensity and ability to draw viewers in. [Rec] has its share of issues, but viewers will find its funhouse approach to horror effective regardless.

It’s a normal night on the job for Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), the host of a TV show about what goes on while the rest of us sleep. Assigned to follow a company of firemen on a typical shift, Angela and cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) come along for the ride when a distress call summons them to an urban apartment building. But instead of a defenseless old lady, the group encounters a shrieking harpy who’s been overtaken by some strange illness. In no time at all, the complex has been sealed off to prevent the infection from spreading, with those trapped inside left to their own devices. As the night progresses, Angela and company fight to survive as, one by one, the disease turns them into frothing monsters, leaving next to no hope of escape on the horizon.

Rarely do you see a foreign film with as universal a premise as that of [Rec]. The concept of subtitles usually has stateside moviegoers heading for the hills, but I like to think horror is the one genre you don’t have to read to get the full effect. It’s about establishing a situation of fear and getting the best seat in the house, of experiencing the sensation of growing dread alongside the characters. If there were ever a film that embodied this approach to horror, it’s [Rec], which, like Diary of the Dead and Cloverfield, casts viewers in a more active role. Rather than survey the carnage from a distance, the audience is thrust onto the front lines, watching helplessly as things tragically snowball out of control. In fact, this picture has a leg up on its American cousin in how the players, as thinly-developed as they are, are easier to identify with. [Rec] knows you’re more liable to accept someone as an average schmoe when they’re a stranger; otherwise, if the flick’s a bust, you’re stuck playing Spot the Character Actor.

It’s the aim of directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero to deliver as pure a horror film as they can, an extent to which the boys are successful. [Rec] is often pretty scary, in the Drag Me to Hell fashion of never knowing what horrors will pop out at you next. But while the filmmakers’ intentions are admirable and serve their purpose in the realm of horror, too often does it feel like they took the easy way out. Plaza and Balaguero mistake “disorienting” for “frightening” and spend most of the film whipping viewers into a frenzy rather than striking fear into their hearts. I wouldn’t have minded to much had so much of [Rec] not been simplified to the extreme. It’s hard to care about what’s going on when the most motivation the characters receive consists of “run,” “scream,” and “be eaten.” The humorless atmosphere leadens a film already hindered by stop-and-go pacing; periods of bugnuts insanity are split up by moments where the story just decides to putz around for no reason in particular.

I know a good deal of people who enjoyed Quarantine and, as [Rec] improves on it in almost every way, just might like the original more. It’s a more lean cut (at 75 minutes, the flick does less dawdling), and I appreciate how the story kept most of its secrets to itself. Don’t let my relative disappointment with [Rec] discourage you from giving it a go; it’s quite the spry ditty when it wants to be, which is more than I can say for Friday the 13th Part Umpteen.

Rating: ★★½☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

Read Andrew Guarini’s [Rec] review here.

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