Simply put, Blair Witch Project + Dawn of the Dead = [REC] . But don’t let that simplistic definition turn you off, because I guarantee this movie isn't what you think it is. In a world full of the most awful made-for-Netfilx Zombie movies, this is a much needed breath of fresh air. This movie will definitely get you airborne out of your seat and leave you peeking around corners in your own house. So get ready for a Spanish lesson in this soon-to-be-canonized zombie flick [REC].
Jump to the end for a SPOILER FREE REVIEW.
This found footage news story follows the young, up-and-coming journalist Angela and her cameraman Pablo. They are spending a night with the local city fire department, hoping to show the firemens’ selfless service to the city. And lucky (unlucky) for them a call comes and firefighters with reporters in tow, rush off to a small apartment building. Meeting the police and the distraught tenets of the apartment, they soon discover a little old lady, bloodied and hungry for cop neck. Rushing downstairs with the wounded officer the group finds they have been placed under military quarantine.Everyone is rather upset and pretty curious about this disease, especially after having to gun down the little-old lady. It’s announced that a health inspector is coming in to test everyone. And wearing his full hazmat suit. the inspector comes on in. While tending to the wounded, some handcuffs aren't put on quite right and some more of the tenets get bit. The inspector fesses up that a deadly virus, spread by saliva, was traced to their building, hence the quarantine. The virus has deferring effect times based on different blood types. The tenets, cops, and firefighters are quickly whittled off, leaving Angela and Pablo in the penthouse trapped by a dozen zombies. They discover the eerie writings and recordings of a catholic priest who was investigating a possible disease causing the possession of a local teenage girl. The priest ended his investigation by locking the possessed/zombified girl in the apartment. Angela and Pablo get the unfortunate joy of meeting said girl and getting hammered to death by her.
Here’s what was Good About It
Found Footage Fear
I've never even seen Blair Witch Project (I know, it’s on the list) but I can tell you that I share with the rest of the world an aversion to the found footage style. Shaky cameras, fast moving/blur, and strange angels can at best leave the viewer uncomfortable or frustrated, at worst they can make you physically sick. And the found footage style just completely controls the direction and tone of the movie. Even single shot you make has to be justified as reasonable or natural to the characters. And it was a novelty that had pretty well worn off by the mid-2000’s.
But all that being said, it was the greatest choice the directors could have made for [REC]. This movie wouldn't work with any other style. The plot and characters weren’t big enough for a traditional set shot movie. The found footage made it so personal and real that the viewer can’t help but feel drawn in. So often a zombie movie is showing the apocalypse and worldwide destruction. I mean do we have to be fighting for humanity's survival every time? It was refreshing to see zombies on a small scale, where the stakes were very personal.
I was amazed at how steady and blur-free they were able to keep the shots in [REC], even in a multi-floored environment. Found footage is great for cutting out unnecessary dialogue and low energy scenes. And while I’m not sure how I feel about night vision in movies in general, it was great in this movie. It was very Silence of the Lambs, except the protagonist/villain view was reversed, and the villain was a teenaged zombie, not a sadistic serial killer. Ok, they were nothing alike, but it was still great camera work.
The effects in [REC] were very well done. If you were looking for splatter fest, this isn’t the one you are looking for, go watch Planet Terror. This is a movie of realistic gore. Most of it wasn’t even CGI, just good old fashioned makeup and corn syrup. The first zombie bite was disturbingly realistic. Seeing someone’s neck stretch before it snaps makes my stomach do back flips. The CGI of the teen girl zombie at the end is decent. It is put in night vision mode, which easily covers up any quality issues.
An anecdotal note. The scene where the fireman falls from the ceiling and splatters with blood? The body was dropped without the actors prior knowledge. Their reactions were as real as mine when that fireman splatted and I launched out of my seat.
Why I liked this movie
No, [REC] is not the first found footage movie, not even the first zombie found footage movie (Diary of the Dead), but it a found footage movie that makes sense. The first act and setup are a little slow, but they are believable. The scenario itself is believable and logical. The viewer isn't forced to make huge assumptions about the plot and can simply follow the logical response to the events. I could complain about the one dimensional characters or shallow acting, but I think it actually helps the plot. You don’t look for characters when you’re watching the news. And essentially this movie is just news. It’s a documentation of events as they happen. It doesn't need to show the why, just the what.
[REC] is able to quickly ramp up the terror in a hurry. From essentially the second zombie bite, things start spinning out of control. That fear, of things going from bad to worse, is great at causing terror. It builds quickly and becomes enveloping. Plus throw in a few scary cheap shots and by the end of of the movie you are completely sucked in. The camera might as well be your own eyes peeking around corners.
SPOILER FREE REVIEW
[REC] is a found footage zombie flick that delivers the fear. You get to follow a news crew as they investigate a call for help and end up trapped in a building full of hungry tenets. It’s a movie that jumps up to scare you without losing the realism and simplicity that is lost in so many horror movies. While the effects aren’t anything special, I think terror is most often what you don’t see, as opposed to what you do see. A must for any lover of zombie flicks and guaranteed good time.
Final Grade: A