Review: [●REC] [2007]

Dir. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza

Cast: Manuela Velasco, Pablo Rosso, Ferran Terraza, Carlos Vicente, María Teresa Ortega

Sadly [●REC] is interminably and unjustly likened by reviewers to The Blair Witch Project, understandable given its plot, cast of characters and the cinematic mechanisms utilised, but that is undeniably where any similarity ends. Although The Blair Witch Project was a ground breaking film, particularly if we take into account it's pervasively cogent viral marketing campaign, if we were to assess the two movies essentially on their horror genre credentials then [●REC] is by far the exemplary title – if anything [●REC] is the film that Blair Witch should have been.

The title acknowledges it's faux-documentary stylings, ergo it is filmed from the perspective of a camera man, Pablo (Rosso), and his presenter, Ángela Vidal (Velasco), tailing a Barcelona fire crew for a TV program titled "While You Sleep". Whilst at the station, a call comes in about a frantic lady trapped in an apartment block and everyone hops in the fire tender and heads off to appraise the situation. Once there they co-opt a couple of policemen who are already onsite and they make their way to the aforementioned apartment. Lo and behold, they find a crazed, bloodied and tormented woman who attempts to assault and devour one of the police officers. Panic ensues as they carry the mutilated officer to the foyer only to discover that the whole structure has been barricaded by the police and environmental investigators. Corralled inside the house with a collection of unnerved, incensed families, and denied any explanation from the authorities outside, enmity quickly mounts. Then, just to make matters worse, the dead start returning to life...

Considering the meagre running time of 78 minutes, Balagueró and Plaza take their time to construct a palpable sense of anxiety. After the initial lock-down of the building, there is a spell of downtime that is effectively used to permit the audience to linger alongside the petrified captives. In the course of this flawlessly managed intermission, Ángela interviews all the neighbours in turn, and their ripostes help build on the mythos surrounding the perplexing virus, as well as fabricating a tangible sense of frustration and helplessness. We, the viewer, are given the requisite time and impetus to generate a genuine affinity with the helpless protagonists thanks to some astute usage of dark humour.

Whilst The Blair Witch Project trafficked on a hypothesis of the unseen, and used a sense of unease to horrify the audience, [●REC] blends the same stylistic realism but tied to ferocious violence and authentic shocks. The final thirty minutes rates, for this reviewer at least, the most ceaselessly scary, arduously tense experience I have endured with a horror film for a long time. With the undead on the rampage and survivors diminishing, there is categorically no let-up from the action, the alacrity is assaultive, add to that some visceral gore effects that are benefited rather than hindered by the film's low budget and interminable realism, and you have a honest genre classic on your hands. Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza have clearly drank deeply of the well of horror clichés with [●REC], but in doing so they have generated something that is both avant-garde and invigorating. The true caliber of the film lies in its innate deftness to utilise recognisable genre conventions (keen eyed viewers will spot references from Evil Dead, The Shining and even 28 Days Later) and, unlike Cloverfield, there's little room to question the reasons for the cameraman to persist filming and this is due to the fact it's his job. He is there to film a documentary and in authentic cameraman style his instincts take over.

This matters little by the end, though, just when you imagine it couldn't get much scarier, the lights go out, and we are left with a lone on-camera spotlight, and eventually just the night vision, in a scene reminiscent of Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, but assuredly more nerve-shredding than Hollywood could ever hope to manage. I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that [●REC] is the single most harrowing film I have seen in the past decade, and that is a big claim to fame for a diminutive Spanish movie.

Verdict: Watch it with the lights off, with a friend and in a small room. Enjoy.

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