There’s something more to this place. Our cells don’t work. Neither does the T.V. or radio. We’re isolated.
I feel almost like I’m cheating by reviewing [REC] as it is relatively well known compared to the other films I have reviewed, however, with the fourth film coming soon I have decided to review the first three before going to the new one whenever they eventually decide to release that.
[REC] is a Spanish horror film that has since been remade in America as “Quarantine”, but much like most other American remakes, whilst it may be good, it is not anywhere near as excellent as it’s source material.
Whilst the subject matter isn’t very realistic, not helped by the third film in the series, [REC] is one of the most enjoyable horror films around and arguably my favourite non-English language film.
Angela (Velasco) is a TV presenter of a show that goes behind the scenes of companies and services that operate during the night, and her latest episode will be following the fire service. After initially being very bored, she finds herself joining a call at an apartment building where they believe an old lady has been severely injured.
When they arrive the lady bites a police officer and when they try and rush him to the hospital, they find that they have been locked in the building by the government and all other exits are being sealed.
As they try to find an exit the old woman attacks several other people, who themselves eventually start attacking others, and it becomes a race against time as the survivors are hunted down.
What makes the film enjoyable?
Unlike most found footage films, you aren’t bombarded by noises from unseen sources or even characters being terrified by something that isn’t on screen either. I think that this was due to the found footage style of film not being over-saturated at the time this film was made and therefore most in the genre felt very fresh.
I have nothing against found footage films and some of the efforts have been excellent. Before [REC] came out in 2007 found footage was still a largely unknown genre and the only genuine example was the well-received “Blair Witch Project” and whilst subsequent films have been enjoyable (Cloverfield for example), [REC] and it’s sequel (review coming soon) are, in my opinion, two of the most ground-breaking films in what was still a new genre.
For me it’s the attention to detail that I find draws me in more than most other films in the genre, and reactions in certain situations are genuine because the actor/ress didn’t know what was going to happen. There is a scene early on when the fire crew are attempting to open a door whilst Angela is facing the camera. They decide to open it using what appears to be an axe and Manuel Velasco hadn’t been told that this was happening and her reaction of shock and screaming was genuine, and that’s awesome to watch.
Other examples of great attention to detail include Angela trying on a fireman’s helmut and then struggling to hear what the fireman is saying to her, or a Japanese family that can’t speak Spanish being scared because they never truly understand on the slightest level what is happening due to the language barrier.
Velasco puts in an astounding performance as Angela. Velasco comes from a career as a TV presenter and therefore her performance felt very natural and makes her genuinely likeable. It’s the first time in a while that I have seen a female lead in a horror film where you would actually describe her as likeable and someone who you genuinely want to survive what is happening.
The characters and their reactions really make this film, right down from the minor aspects of their personalities, such as Angela not being one dimensional in the slightest and the fireman being very friendly until he sees that the film crew is filming a woman being shot and he gives a “you’re really not fucking helping” look on his face after previously being very tolerant of them from their time at the fire station.
After the infection starts spreading amongst those trapped in the building, self-preservation starts taking hold and that’s definitely not something you see in most horror films, and one such example comes shortly after the 50 minute mark when one character has been handcuffed to a set of stairs for the protection of others. Although there doesn’t seem to be a problem at first, some infected start to break through a nearby metal door and whilst the characters try to free her, they leave her to effectively fend for herself when it’s obvious that she isn’t going to get free. In most horror films some characters would stay behind to try and help her, risking infection themselves, but in this they’re very much in the “fuck that” camp when they realise that she isn’t going to be freed in time and they abandon her. This is more realistic to what would happen in real life in a similar situation.
All of the characters feel exceptionally real and this could easily be because none of the cast were known to the English speaking world before this film and therefore they are free from any stereotypes that might be brought on by people seeing them in previous films. I’ll put that into some sort of context, if I saw a trailer for a movie and I saw that Katherine Heigl was in it, I would assume it was terrible and was a romantic comedy, regardless of what was in the trailer. There are so many famous actors/actresses that are only ever in one type of film and if they’re rubbish in two or more, they’re not going to get any better as time goes on in the genre, and the aforementioned Heigl is just terrible in everything that she is in. Anyway, I digress.
Being an unknown actor definitely helps in many ways and some of my favourite performances in films have come from actors/actresses that I’d never previously heard of, and one comes in the form of Carlos Lasarte in the role of Cesar.
Arguably the most enjoyable secondary character, Cesar doesn’t prominently feature but he steals the show when he is on screen. He is just delightful to watch and is an excellent example of when you have a strong supporting cast of characters, your film can be excellent. The stand out scene for the character and one of my favourite scenes in the movie comes when Angela is interviewing him and he is obviously delighted that was is happening is being filmed because it gives him a chance to become famous. He doesn’t say that he wants to be famous at any point during the story but you know that’s what he’s thinking due to how the actor plays him. The character is hilarious to watch because he unknowingly makes numerous racist comments about the foreign family to the camera, thinking he is not getting filmed, but when he finds out that he has been getting filmed saying that his only concern is that his forehead was sweaty. Cesar only has a few lines but the presence he provides is fantastic.
A lack of a soundtrack actually aids the film exceptionally well, and the sound editing is fantastic. In most horror films you are effectively told when to be scared by the sound effects, or when you are scared it isn’t what’s actually on screen, it’s a loud, sudden sound effect that does it. Back in the 1970s and 1980s the horror film industry boomed because horrors weren’t treating their fans like idiots and telling them when to be scared, they respected their audience and you don’t get that these days.
The best horror films aren’t the ones where you get constant action, they are the ones that take the time to develop their characters and the story, and [REC] is one of the finest examples of this as it’s not a few short breaks of nothing happening with sudden large amounts of action, it’s consistently building and building without feeling like you’re being taken on a rollercoaster. The tension consistently builds and you find yourself getting drawn into it before it eventually reaches it’s conclusion.
Most films with a zombie theme, or at least a film with an infection that symptons similar to the rage virus in “28 Days Later” have the characters constantly under the threat of the zombies, there is sometimes no relenting in this and you become less and less invested in the story, [REC] is very different and doesn’t feel like a zombie/infection-themed film because it doesn’t force it on you, infact, for most of the early part of [REC] you don’t realise that it’s a zombie-themed film and is just a horror film, that is before one of the doctors is beaten, but by this point a significant portion of the film has already gone by, 42 minutes and 33 seconds to precise.
With a run time of just 75 minutes from the start of the film to it’s end credits, [REC] doesn’t give itself a lot of time to work with and I mentioned in my review for the extremely flawed “Zombeavers” that if you have a short film then you have to do something exceptional to make it worth watching, and whilst I couldn’t wait for that film to end, I found myself wanting more at the end of [REC]. I had been drawn in and felt really invested in the characters and the story.
Even if you don’t like found-footage style films, I would urge you to watch [REC] as it is one of the best in the not only that sub-genre, but the whole of the horror genre. I would rate this as one of my favourite horror films, with only “The Thing” (1982) and “The Fly” (1988) being higher on that list off of the top of my head.
The performances of the cast, the characters, the storyline and the confined setting make it very hard not to feel the tension throughout and whilst I wouldn’t say that it is a masterpiece, it is one of the most original films that I have seen in the last ten years and it doesn’t feel like you’ve seen it before, which is something that can’t easily be said for most films in the found-footage category.
If you’ve seen “Quarantine” and enjoyed it, you owe it to yourself to watch the original film as it’s better than it’s remake (and I do actually like “Quarantine). With a rating at the current time of 7.5/10 on IMDB you know you’re going to get a good film, especially as very few horror films get beyond 6/10 these days, let alone above 7.