2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE! When was the last time you were scared at a movie? I mean really scared?
Can’t remember, can you?
Well for those of you who like the idea of flooding your body with adrenaline while sitting in the dark comes Spanish indie “[REC]” (short for “record”), a surprisingly effective addition to the “reality-horror” sub-genre.
Sharing a plot device with “The Blair Witch Project,” “Diary of the Dead” and the recent “Cloverfield,” “[REC]” tells the story of a TV camera crew tagging along with a couple of firemen on what sounds like a routine “old lady trapped in her apartment” call. It isn’t until they get inside the apartment that they realize things are anything but routine, and soon everyone, including residents, firemen, police and the journalists are locked into the building by the authorities outside with nary an explanation of what is going on.
Giving away too much of the plot would be to do the film a great disservice, being that its strength is its ability to both anticipate and exceed audience expectations every step of the way. Suffice it to say that “[REC]” may be one of the most convincing uses of faux documentary style in a horror film, due to air tight plotting and believable character development. The moments where the audience has to suspend disbelief are limited, so invested are we in the human drama of the characters. And while certain developments could be predicted by savvy horror fans, careful camera work and sound design still manage to make them shocking. The only place where things almost break down a bit is towards the end when characters happen upon what looks like an explanation, but even this expository sequence is really just a rouse by the filmmakers to get the audience to drop their guard before the most terrifying moments of the film.
The filmmakers also do a wonderful job of making the camera a character in the film, adding credibility to the idea that people would still be recording regardless of how relentless or desperate things get. It is a multifaceted tool: an instrument for recording the truth, a form of protection against chaos, a way to see in the dark and a way to survive in the dark. Most of the action is contained in a single location, adding an effective air of claustrophobia. And while the Barcelona setting is authentic, the themes and characters are universal: distrust of authority, paranoia and the simple human will to live.
The characters are both familiar and realistic enough for the audience to relate to. There’s the truth obsessed journalist Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman (Pep Sais), who is heard but not seen; a middle-class bourgeois woman and her daughter, a bickering old couple, an old cop and a young cop and a couple of firemen, an immigrant family and even a frustrated medical intern. Each character’s reaction to the growing crisis is predictable, and yet it all feels completely natural because of the strong script and solid acting. The audience becomes truly invested in the welfare of these people, and instead of just waiting for the next a*****e to get skewered the deaths are disturbing and shocking.
Believe it or not, kids, Zombie movies are scary again.