Manuela Velasco as Ãngela
Ferran Terraza as Manu
David Vert as Ãlex
Javier Botet as NiÃ±a Medeiros
Manuel Bronchud as Abuelo
Martha Carbonell as Sra. Izquierdo
Claudia Font as Jennifer
MarÃa Teresa Ortega as Abuela
Pablo Rosso as Marcos
Jorge Serrano as Sergio
Directed by Jaume BalaguerÃ³ & Paco Plaza
Through some Darwinian way of undead evolution, the zombie film had to break new ground following the ’80s. Running zombies, arguably, was a step in the right direction. But more importantly, cutting into deeper issues – echoing 9/11 fears and the promise of rebuilding from devastation (“28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” respectively) – is the only progressive way to secure its survival. One can always depend on zombie godfather George Romero to turn the mirror on us through his thoughtful putrescent parables of afterlife terrors. His latest, “Diary of the Dead” is the latest contribution to Romero’s zombie zeitgeist resurgence. It demonstrates a “Blair Witch”-esque vÃ©ritÃ© style that has seldom been utilized for this sub-genre (even “28 Days Later” had its cinematic flourishes). And for Romero’s purpose, the technique serves to tap on the fourth wall and bridge his audience to the message – a modern riff on our You Tube generation in which everyone is a documentarian and a good old-fashioned flesh-eater outbreak is witnessed through the lens of some wannabe filmmakers. In the case of “Rec,” a double-team sucker punch from writer-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, the first-person perspective aims to simply scare the shit out of you first and foremost. And do they succeed! “Rec” – an abbreviation for “record” on your camcorder – is easily one of the scariest films we’ve seen in years.
The effervescent, mousy, camera-ready Angela serves as our amiable guide through the hell unleashed upon the tenants of one apartment complex. Her mission starts off innocent enough: On behalf of the early morning TV program “While You’re Asleep” (a name that begs the joking query from one character, “Then who watches it?”), Angela and her cameraman are granted permission to turn a news package on a local fire department and the daily routine of the men who work there. Manuela Velasco plays Angela with a sweet and charming determination anchoring her performance in believability. Balaguero and Plaza intentionally keep Angela’s cameraman anonymous, strengthening his position as “the audience” and heightening our sense of voyeurism. Playtime and cutesy flirtations with the firemen comes to end when an actual emergency call arrives leading Angela and department personnel Alex and Manu to an apartment building. The cops have already arrived and a varied group of concerned tenants is waiting in the lobby. Immediately, Angela’s presence is called into question by the authority in command, still, she’s allowed to carry on documenting the events that follow.
At first, it seems like Alex and Manu have been called to simply help an old woman who has taken a spill or experienced some accident. “Rec” dispenses that notion quickly escalating into a full-tilt rollercoaster ride involving teeth-gnashing “infected” apartment residents who leap on their prey howling bloody murder, rending flesh and spilling generous amounts of blood in the process. With this overwhelming wake-up call, our cameraman becomes less smooth about his approach, eschewing professional CNN style camera handling for something more akin to COPS. As a result, the “infected” assaults that arrive throughout the film are murky, often blink-and-you’ll-miss-them (especially one poor fella who takes a multi-story dive down a stairwell) affairs that never lose an ounce of concentrated aggression. Every so often we’ll get fleeting glimpses of the nightmarish beings our leading cast is up against, otherwise, the formula here is action and reaction, and because the cameraman is our portal to what’s happening on screen, his reaction (mostly in freak out mode) dictates what we’re allowed to see.
When Angela and the team later find themselves quarantined within the building by government health inspectors, Balaguero and Plaza understand “Rec” cannot sustain itself on visual tricks alone. So, they boost their gimmick with just enough story clues to help explain the reason for this seemingly viral outbreak that is occurring. Much of this comes through Angela’s sit-down interviews with the residents, perhaps “Rec’s smallest of hiccups that slows the momentum down. Nevertheless, each character is imbued with a modicum of naturalism and identity to make them living, breathing people. “Rec” also does a deft job at steering the narrative outside of the quarantined area without ever stepping beyond the front door of the building. Through one character’s cell phone contact with her husband, the fear is compounded by his stories from the streets where officials have the place on total lockdown. The panic is palpable, needless to say, felt through us the viewer and our poor cameraman whose physical trembles of dread can be heard through the rattling of the equipment he’s trying to hold steady in his hand.
As “Rec” nears its nihilistic end, it’s a rampaging house of horrors with Balaguero and Plaza pulling the switches and levers like merry, deranged carnival technicians with an endless arsenal of scares at their fingertips. They make a slight attempt to resolve the origins of the events we’ve witnessed and threaten to burn all of the mystery they’ve built. They do well to hold back and deliver a finale that doesn’t quite leave you a weepy mess like Angela – because it treads down a road we’ve seen in “The Descent” and “28 Weeks Later” – but is revolting and disturbing nonetheless.
Apart, Balaguero and Plaza’s previous efforts haven’t impressed me any; together they’re a forceful pair to be reckoned with. “Rec” doesn’t earn points for originality but, sweet baby Jesus, does it excel on execution. It’s equation of “Demons 2” cross-bred with “28 Days Later” and other past faves result in a shiver-inducing experience. So, for the motion sick lot out there, pop some Dramamine, strap yourself in and expect to jump out of your seat more than a few times.
Now I understand why Screen Gems was so quick to move on an Americanized remake (arriving under the title “Quarantined”).