REC 2007 Dir. Jaume Balagueró
Found footage movies, or “cinema verte” if you’re fancy, are everywhere. Often chosen to save costs, this style of horror film can be used to great effect, crafting an experience that feels”real”. More often though, they feel cheap, jostling the audience from jump scare to jump scare making those with motion sickness feel ill. Let us also not forget the question that plagues every film of this kind: “Why don’t they put down the camera and run?” This narrative question often leads the filmmakers to flimsy excuses to keep the camera rolling while monsters chase our protagonists. It’s not that there aren’t found footage films that I don’t like, but it is a very difficult format to use and use well. Fortunately, there are a handful of films that rise above the rest and REC is at the top of the list.
Like most other horror films of this kind, REC works the camera into its narrative. Television reporter Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo are following the crew of a fire station in Barcelona, Spain for a documentary television series “While You Were Sleeping” a show dedicated to showcasing nightlife in Barcalona. The firemen soon receive a phone call from an apartment building concerning an elderly woman who is stuck in her apartment. Hoping for a juicier story, Ángela and Pablo follow along. After police break down her door, the firemen soon discover that the old woman has become violent and zombie like. She attacks a policeman as the apartment’s residents gather in the lobby of the building. What follows is a story about a spreading infection and a brutal attempt to quarantine it.
More than anything, I was impressed with the structure of REC. The film wastes no time, introducing the concept, characters, tertiary characters, inciting incident quickly, allowing us to get to the meat and potatoes of the film itself. The choice to keep the entirety of the action in a single building also serves the film well. We become familiar with the landscape of the building as it is explored again and again each time becoming more tainted by the spreading infection. REC is the best example of a “ride” or “house of horrors” set to film that I can think of. The film moves from one set piece to another quickly, allowing the audience to pick up story fragments, or character moments as well as jump scares. The tight script and well-played characters all lead us through a funhouse to a horrible revelation at the end. Seriously, it was unexpected.
The lingering “Camera Question” is answered by virtue of the story’s conceit, however, the filmmakers go one step further, making the making the device useful to the the characters beyond getting footage. In the later part of the film, Pablo’s camera serves mostly as flashlight, helping the residents navigate darkened corridors. In the final moments of the film, lightbulb broken, the camera becomes a way for the characters to see in utter darkness. Because of these real and clever ways the camera is used, the “question” that plagues so many found footage films is forgotten and you find yourself caught up in story and character.
Speaking of characters, Ángela is likable and we find ourselves caring what happens to her and Pablo as they become increasingly in over their heads. The apartment’s residents also are distinct, giving us a sense of a real world being interrupted by something supernatural. The filmmakers don’t overplay a character, but instead let them react to situations both big and small, allowing us to see who they really are.
This film was adapted into the American film Quarantine, presumably to pick up the “terrified of subtitles” audience. I’ve not seen the remake, but have been told that it is essentially a note for note translation of the original. This is a shame, because I found the fact that REC, a Spanish language film, to be a benefit to the viewing experience. It felt like I was actually watching something real instead of something manufactured, which is the whole point of this sort of film. You want to feel a suspension of disbelief, you want to feel like your’e going for a ride, and REC is the best movie of its kind to actually achieve that.