Published on July 15th, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Summary: This is as good as horror has been in the 2000s. Using the popular "found footage" technique, Spain's 'Rec' feels completely authentic and terrifying.
R | 78 min.
Director: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Screenplay: Jaume Balagueró, Luis A. Berdejo, Paco Plaza
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza
Studio: Filmax International
I’ve watched — and loved — a lot of horror movies in my time. But the list of those that legitimately scared me is a short one. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); The Blair Witch Project (still my pick for the scariest movie ever); and most recently, REC.
The title of this Spanish-language shocker may throw you but it’s pronounced “record” — definitely not “recreation,” unless you define that as running for your life through a four-story apartment building. Its title is taken from the fact that the film’s story is told via found footage of a doomed television journalist and her cameraman.
Manuela Velasco plays Ángela Vidal, a cute and bubbly reporter for the documentary TV series While You’re Asleep. For an upcoming show, she decides to cover a typical overnight at one of Barcelona’s fire stations. Her unseen cameraman Pablo shoots as she interviews firefighters like Manu (Ferrán Terraza), while he sit around in the station house, waiting for a call. The call to action comes when the fire crew has to respond to an apartment building where an old woman has apparently become trapped.
Once inside, it’s clear the situation is abnormal and eventually our characters become quarantined inside the structure with the building’s residents as health officials gather outside. What unfolds inside is recorded by Pablo’s camera as the characters search for clues regarding their dire situation.
Found-footage films have become a staple of the horror genre since Blair Witch popularized them in 1999, but the style dates back even further; 1979’s Cannibal Holocaust is a memorable early example. But between Blair Witch and the recent Paranormal Activity series, REC spawned a franchise of its own with two sequels since its release.
What makes a found-footage film either succeed or fail miserably is how authentic the action feels to the audience. In these movies, you’re being asked to believe that this incident really happened, so it helps if the actors are no-namers and the onscreen special effects are kept to a minimum. REC features a strong performance from Velasco, whose character is endearing and brave — making the viewers care about what happens to her. Also, the cast of actors who make up the supporting roles are believable as average citizens caught in a nightmare.
For some filmgoers, reading subtitles during a movie is akin to walking around with pebbles in your shoe; to those people I say suck it up. Reading subtitles is a very small price to pay for the intense experience this movie offers. Most of the action in REC is blatant, in front of the lens kind of stuff, but the subtitles don’t get in the way during some of the film’s subtler scenes. Although I will say it sometimes sounded to my dumb American ears that Ángela was saying WAY more words than were spelled out onscreen.
There’s nothing pretentious about REC, as can be the case with some foreign horror flicks. Anyone who likes being scared shitless will love this movie. Blood, gore and nasty makeup effects are a big part of REC‘s aesthetic, making for some jarring images. Directors Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza also use a bit of CGI in bringing to life the main antagonist in the film’s claustrophobic climactic sequence. Be warned, though: the movie does take a while to get started so just stick with its lengthy setup and be patient as the real fun begins about 20 minutes in.
REC is great because it takes the best of the found footage, zombie, monster and noir subgenres to create an original experience that is certainly among the scariest movies ever made. Of course after it stunned audiences in 2007, Hollywood had to produce an English-language remake called Quarantine which I can’t speak on — but if you stick with REC, you’ll have a new favorite to impress your friends with during a scary movie marathon.
… and watch them throw their popcorn in the air as Pablo’s camera pans around while taking a peek into the apartment building’s attic!