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By Felix Vasquez Jr. | April 10, 2008

Found Footage films are becoming the newest trend in horror films and the reason for that is that they’re very reflective of our culture as the genre can infamously be. They’re very indicative of our obsession with voyeurism and our search for the truth in a filtered society run by big media, and we’ve seen some prime examples in the way of the truly scary “Paranormal Activity,” the damn good “Cloverfield,” and now the Spanish horror film “[REC],” an entry into the growing sub-genre horror fans are clamoring to watch, but simply haven’t the sources to.

Unless you’ve gone to local horror festivals, the masterpiece “[REC]” is pretty much a mythical horror film that’s now being remade in the West with the new title “Quarantine” (the word is “[REC]” won’t be on DVD until the remake is released). To the uninitiated, “[REC]” is an incredible experiment in the found footage formula aiming its lens on a run down tenement where a presumed outbreak of rabies sparks a horrific night for a fledgling reporter looking for some excitement.

If you’ve managed to hear about “[REC],” and thoroughly explored its praise then rest easy in knowing that, yes, it is everything you’ve heard and then some. “[REC]” is probably one of the most excruciating times I’ve ever had during a horror film as accomplishes what every horror film should do, even if at its base the concept is standard. I sat with nervous sweats, jumping at every sight, and then proceeded to have a difficult time walking down a dark hallway for at least a week subsequent my screening.

Garnering a healthy sense of tension, “[REC]” starts with nary a title sequence or opening credits. Instead it begins with a smiling young Angela who stands in a fire house preparing to film her low-rated nightly show “While You’re Sleeping.” Here she hopes for some excitement while practicing the doldrums of fire house maintenance, the mess hall, and engaging in a basketball game. Her wish is granted, when they’re called into a domestic disturbance at a local apartment building where an old woman has begun attacking her neighbors.

At first what seems like a typical disturbance elevates into a rather disturbing glimpse at bio-chemical disasters and shifty government practices set amidst urban turmoil and racial tensions. The neighbors, even after watching this woman drenched in blood bite the neck off of a local police chief, are still more concerned about their Asian neighbors and if said Asians being in the residence had anything to do with it. Soon, the blood pours and the carnage ensues as Angela and her camera man Manu film every bit of chaos as the rabies outbreak manages to spread along the tenement, while the residents contract this quickly spread infection that turns them into ravaging crimson-eyed monsters. The situation becomes much worse when local health officials seal the entire building up and threaten bodily harm if any attempt at escape is made.

Director-writers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza always challenge intuitive viewer keeping the principles of their disease rather loose. The origins of said disease are delightfully ambiguous while the symptoms and inevitable impact of this budding epidemic are kept a constant mystery. While utterly nihilistic in its attempts to disorient the audience, the directors keep “[REC]” a consistently terrifying experience with some of the most gruesome deaths filmed, along with some generally disturbing moments that are dependent on the performances and some incredible bits of unnerving silence and close calls.

As it should be, the directing team behind “[REC]” uses the device of the hand held camera as an instrument to raise the tension and suspense by repeatedly choosing to blur moments of heightened panic and bringing us into complete darkness with only voices and commotion heard, while also never fully revealing the features of the infected to the audience. Once it reaches the crescendo where we’re not really sure what these monsters are anymore, the proceedings become so much more frenzied and mesmerizing.

What further paves “[REC]” as a must see horror film destined to be a classic is the last thirty minutes, which are not only some of the most terrifying and nightmarish ever concocted, but the clever curveball of a twist that many will not completely go for upon delivery, but once it sinks in, Plaza and Balagueró brilliantly avoid any and all comparisons to “28 Days Later” by this and this alone proclaiming that those sealed in are undoubtedly doomed, while those safely outside awaiting entry have no idea what’s coming for them.

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