Film discussion

Throwback 10: [REC]

Between 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and 2007’s [REC] there wasn’t really any standout found footage movies.

Although The Blair Witch Project may have brought a lot of attention to the sub-genre, only really known previously for 1980s controversial exploitation flick Cannibal Holocaust and 1989s The Last Broadcast, which hardly anyone saw before The Blair Witch Project took off anyway–given its fake documentary prior to it’s release ramping up the “is it actually real?” hysteria and the mixed reaction to it at the time–things calmed down considerably on the found footage front after the madness of the Blair Witch. Even The Blair Witch Project itself got a rushed out, mediocre, back-to-normal sequel. So by the time 2007 rolled around, film fans were ready for something new and exciting to scare them all over again. And Spain’s [REC] certainly delivered on that front.

Co-writer and director of [REC], Paco Plaza, has said in interviews that part of the inspiration for the films found footage/shaky-camera style is from YouTube videos and that watching old TV footage and hand held clips uploaded to the site is what led to [REC]’s style and this inspiration is evident from the start as there is no opening credits sequence as we jump straight into presenter Angela (Manuela Velasco) filming late night documentary While You’re Sleeping, covering the night shift at a local fire station in Barcelona.

From there we follow Angela around the station and later to an apartment block, courtesy of never seen cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso), to answer a call over concerns about a resident. From then onwards, tension builds, excitement rises and fear takes over as the building comes under quarantine (ironically, the name of the 2008 US remake), a mysterious and deadly virus spreads and people get attacked by friends and loved ones that aren’t friends and loved ones anymore but… zombies?

Whether the infected are actually zombies or not seems to be a topic for debate in some horror circles. The virus in [REC] is spread by saliva so when bitten you turn into a flesh hungry maniac but unlike “traditional” zombies the bitten in [REC] do not raise from the dead, they just become crazed and like Danny Boyle’s 2000 horror, 28 Days Later, the infected can run at speed. Plus, the end scene helps paint a picture of what the infected could be and where the infection came from. So I guess it depends on how you define zombies; people that raise from the dead and attack the living? Or the victims of a virus that attack the living whether they died first or not? Either way, they eat flesh. And the whole ‘should zombies walk or run’ debate has been done to death. Pun intended.

A criticism aimed towards [REC] at the time was a lack of depth in the characters and while, yes, that may be true, why do we need to know Angela’s life story, for example? Or the apartment blocks residents’ jobs, family life etc.? We are told all we need to know. The point is to make us feel as trapped, disorientated and terrified as the residents as we watch everything unfold in front of our eyes. If it was actual real life found footage we were watching, it’s very unlikely we would know anything about residents’ histories. What makes it so scary is the unknown, the way we’re dragged into everything so quickly and lead towards it’s brilliant conclusion in the top floor apartment.

Taking place in pitch black with only Pablo’s cameras’ night vision to guide us and only Angela and Pablo left (or so it seems), in terms of the uninfected anyway, ramps up the fear even further and this final scene, which features what must be one of the best jump scares ever, proves why [REC] is one of the finest examples of modern horror. Angela scrambling around finding hints about the virus with no idea that the biggest hint is just around the corner and it’s frantic, scary and open-ended finish is as adrenaline fuelled as the rest of the film and leaves you breathless and with a few questions as to what happens next.

Still as exciting and terrifying as it was in 2007, [REC] is up there with the best in the found footage genre and is definitely something of a modern horror classic.

2 comments

  1. The infected aren’t zombies, the second film reveals that it’s demonic possession passed on like a virus. The other sequels also build on this and explain more, though it’s not explained in the first film. That sense of mystery definitely had me coming back to learn more in the later films.

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    1. Thanks Amy. Yeah, I hadn’t seen both films for years so watching the first back you could see why there’s some debate about it. Will definitely be rewatching 2 very soon

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