Rec (DVD)


Now available on DVD


Manuela Velasco as Ángela Vidal

Ferran Terraza as Manu

Pablo Rosso as Pablo

David Vert as Álex

Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza


Whenever a new remake project is announced, the cry of “why?” is invariably heard from fandom. With the classics, though, it’s not hard to understand Hollywood’s rationale – the notion of remaking a film of, say, the 1970s for a new generation has some merit, even if many fans believe we’d be better off if Hollywood would stop strip-mining the past. In the case of new foreign films, though, the purpose being these remakes seem a little more galling. Whenever Hollywood decides to remake a contemporary foreign film for American audiences, the sole motivator is that they believe that a subtitled film isn’t going to bring in the kind of money that an English language version would. Sadly, they’re not wrong. But this practice means that a superb shocker like the Spanish film Rec (2007) has to wait until long after its American counterpart has had a chance to make bank in US theaters (and be released on disc) before it can be released on Region 1 DVD.

In the case of the Dowdle Brothers-directed Quarantine (2008), the film was actually an effective retelling of Rec but it was so similar – practically identical, even – that it seemed especially foolish to not just have released the original in US theaters. It’s not as though Rec is such a dialogue-heavy movie that audiences would’ve been overburdened with subtitles. But regardless, it’s not until almost a year after Quarantine premiered in the US – and over a year and a half since Rec was a hit in its native country – that Rec is finally making its long-awaited debut on US DVD. Now the question that US fans – who haven’t already caught up with Rec either on bootleg or all-region DVD – have is this: if you’ve already seen Quarantine, is Rec even worth watching?

On principle, I would have to say ‘yes.’ The original definitely deserves a look whether you liked Quarantine or not. If you hated Quarantine, you ought to give the original a try. And if you loved Quarantine, you owe it to yourself to see the film that inspired it. And if you were totally indifferent to Quarantine, well, it’s a toss-up. The one real difference between both is in how they explain the origin of the outbreak. Of course, there might be some genre fans that haven’t seen Quarantine at all and in that case, consider it a real opportunity to see Rec for the first time. Rec is a shocker devoid of pretense or any message – except for the usual paranoia about the government that fuels so many genre films. After all, if the governments of the world actually helped people, rather than engaged in cover-ups and conspiracies, it’d be a lot harder to put people in hopeless situations like the one found in Rec.

For those who don’t already know, Rec tells the story of reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Ferran Terraza), both unexpectedly caught in the middle of a virulent outbreak of an apparent rabies-like virus within the walls of an apartment building. Angela and Pablo are accompanying a crew of firefighters as part of a piece they’re filming for the TV program While You Were Sleeping and while the early part of Rec shows Angela and Pablo documenting the tedium of life in the firehouse, once the call is received from the apartment building about a disturbance, there isn’t another chance for Angela and Pablo to catch their breath.

With everything we see in Rec coming from Pablo’s hand-held footage, this isn’t a film for those affected by motion sickness (in comparing the two films, I felt that Quarantine had curtailed some of the excessive movement of Rec) but for those who can tolerate the constant herky-jerkiness, Rec is hard to beat for all-out terror. Co-directed by Jaume Balaguero – director of The Nameless (1999) and Darkness (2002) – and Paco Plaza (and written by Balaguero), Rec spends most of its brief 75 minute running time with its characters in a frenzied fight for survival. Velasco makes for an engaging heroine while the remaining cast who comprise the firefighters and apartment tenants hold up their end by not breaking the film’s well-crafted air of verisimilitude (to ensure genuine reactions, Balaguero and Plaza kept the actors in the dark as to their character’s fates).

One complaint about Rec may be that it really isn’t about anything other than a series of jump scares. But yet it’s so ruthlessly efficient in setting up those scares and so adept at working the nerves of the audience, it’d be wrong to knock it for not having more on its mind then scaring the living shit out of the audience. Once we enter that apartment building, the film never stops hammering us with one jolt after another. And Balaguero and Plaza manage to not give us cause to question the life and death decisions of the characters – there’s never a point where the audience has to roll their eyes at the lack of common sense at work. Rec‘s characters do their best to survive an escalating nightmare but what becomes apparent is that there may be no way out.

In his review of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Roger Ebert wrote that the film was “a visceral experience – we aren’t seeing the movie, we’re having it happen to us” and that applies to Rec as well. It’s not a movie that invites dissection of character motivations and plot points – it’s a film that puts you side by side with characters fighting to live from one moment to the next.

For such a celebrated film, the extras here are surprisingly lean – with the main extra being an eighteen and a half minute documentary, dubbed Making of Rec. Comprised of three parts – Recording, A Phone Call In The Middle Of The Night and The Infection – Making of Rec comes with no ‘play all’ function and must be watched straight through. Although relatively slight, the doc is brief, breezy, and informative. Balaguero and Plaza discuss every aspects of Rec‘s production – from casting (if there’s a single, indispensible edge that Rec has over Quarantine it’s that Quarantine‘s Jennifer Carpenter can’t match the effortless appeal of Velasco), to location (Balaguero and Plaza claim that once the appropriate building was discovered, the location practically finished writing the script itself), and make-up effects (courtesy of David Ambit and Inside FX). The disc’s special features are rounded out with a generous selection of previews.

One of the most accomplished shockers of the present decade, Rec is a study in ruthless efficiency. More horror filmmakers should be striving to follow Balaguero and Plaza’s no-nonsense example and not just those specifically assigned to remake the duo’s work.