Found footage is a sub-genre that is very much derived by horror fans. But when it is done right, it can be a glorious piece of work and that is exactly what Spanish film-makers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza bring us with the utterly brilliant [REC].
A television film crew, documenting the night shift of a Barcelona fire brigade, get much more than they bargained for when they attend a routine call-out. Upon arrival at an inner-city apartment, the firefighters are viciously attacked by the elderly female occupant, who appears to be in the throes of some sort of viral infection. Before long, the virus has taken hold of the entire building, which is cordoned off by the authorities. Trapped inside, the television crew – using their cameras to capture the events as they unfold – and the other remaining survivors find themselves pitched into a nightmare of unimaginable proportions.
This is a film with a simple plot, with an overused technique, but is done very well. It still holds up today long after the waves of found footage films came around. It stands above them due to the sheer claustrophobic nature of the film. This is a small production with big ideas and a crew that can achieve them.
[REC] is paced very well and when the film slows itself down it allows you to learn more about the characters and their traits, this is essential to care about the supporting cast. We don’t much to me with them during the chaos, but their little moments in the breather moments work very well. The supporting cast had a great asset in that the directors only revealed certain things that would happen within a scene, so some responses had to be true to their character.
Manuela Velasco is a revelation here in [REC] as she toes the line of a person trying to survive these terrifying events and also trying to record it all for the sake of “journalism”. Angela is a character that could easily have been written as someone who is only going for the glory and fame of the piece. Yet she never explicitly says it which allows the idea that she is doing this for the right intentions. She is reporting and thinking of the news piece. If it leads to her leaving her late-night filler TV Show When You’re Asleep all the better.
Unlike some leads in found footage films, she is supremely likeable, with a charm that carries the opening segments. Velasco also brings ample amounts of fear to her role and everything Angela, the residents and the firefighters go through is amplified by her presence.
Interestingly and importantly to the success of the film, we do not catch every single thing that happens. There is a limited number of “lucky breaks” in the cameraman being at the right time for everything. Sometimes we hear screams and miss the incident. This allows us to focus on these characters trying to escape the building. This is assisted by the film virtually playing in real-time, with only a few jumps in minutes as events unfold.
For the most part [REC] is filmed as if it is a news piece. This is a news cameraman after all and he isn’t going to get these fantastic static shots. The camera is almost in constant movement and characters are sometimes obscured by others as panic sets in. The reason why the camera is still rolling is more sensible than most as well. The crew are from a new station, so they can get their footage out there to show what the residents have gone through. It isn’t a case of filming for filming’s sake for a change. There is even a sequence of Angela and Pablo interviewing residents. They are making a news piece and it does have that feel for the majority of the film.
[REC]’s strength is that for the first hour it plays as a straight-up virus infused zombie flick all enclosed in a small apartment building. However, for the last 15 minutes, it becomes something else all the more frightening and if you have been lucky enough to not have caught it yet. It has to be recommended that you ignore the trailer and a lot of promotional images as it does spoil what should be one hell of a treat.
[REC] is a claustrophobic horror gem that took everyone by surprise and 13 years later, it still cements itself as one of the best horror films of the 21st Century. An exhilarating 74-minute ride. Do yourself a favour and find [REC] 2 and enjoy a wonderful Spanish double bill.
Arrow Films has released [REC] on Blu Ray from January, for more information on what is included have a look below.
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors’ booklet with new writing on the film by Xavier Aldana Reyes
High Definition Blu-ray presentation with two viewing options: the “theatrical version” (24fps, 1080p, 78 mins) as shown in cinemas, and the “production version” (25fps, 1080i, 75 mins) as originally filmed.
Original Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio options on both versions
Optional English subtitles
New audio commentary by film critic and historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Found Footage
Horror: Fear and the Appearance of Reality
Archive commentary by directors Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza
The Making of [REC], an archive featurette examining the process of production featuring interviews with cast & crew.
How to Shoot a Horror Movie, a French-language featurette presented by directors Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza
Archive interview with Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza looking back on the film
The Fantastic Four, an archive panel discussion with [REC] directors Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza and new wave Spanish horror contemporaries Gonzalo Lopez Callego and Juan Antonio Bayona
On set footage of the cast & crew at work on key scenes including “the attack on Mrs. Izquierdo” and the “climb to hell”
Archive interview with director of photography Pablo Rosso
More Archive interview with sound supervisor Xavi Mas
Archive interview with sound designer Oriol Tarragó
Confidences, a video diary by star Manuela Velasco
Deleted and extended scenes, including “Fire Station Redux”, “The Secret Archive” and “Corridors of Nails”
Casting, original video footage from the audition process
Trailers and TV spots
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
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