A Fantastic Fest ’09 review
Manuela Velasco as Angela Vidal
Jonathan Mellor as Dr. Owen
Javier Botet as NiÃ±a Mediros
Directed by: Jaume BalaguerÃ³ and Paco Plaza
Minor spoilers ahead.
Quarantine got it right, [Rec] didn’t. There, I’ve said it. Let the stoning begin.
Don’t take this as an endorsement of the Americanized [Rec] over Jaume BalaguerÃ³ and Paco Plaza’s Spanish haunted house ride. I saw Quarantine in theaters before catching Rec on DVD, and I found both tightly wound chillers to be extremely harrowing first-person exercises in fear inducement. While Quarantine all but replicated [Rec] scene by scene, I’ve come in hindsight to appreciate director John Erick Dowdle’s deviation from [Rec] in regards to the true source of the viral outbreak. You’re still dealing with rabid, unstoppable killing machines, but at least the source of the aggression is man-made. This perfectly complements the heightened sense of reality communicated by both films’ cinÃ©ma vÃ©ritÃ© approach to the madness contained within their quarantined apartment buildings.
It’s not that BalaguerÃ³ and Paco Plaza’s decision to employ a virus as an agent for demonic possession spoiled [Rec]. When all was partially revealed, the mayhem was practically over and an air of mystery still hung over the gory proceedings. But it does taint [Rec 2] (screened at Fantastic Fest 2009): the shift from a you-are-there 28 Days Later in an apartment building to The Exorcist by way of Aliens takes the authenticity out of the situation. You’re no longer trapped in a horrifying event that’s vaguely rooted in reality. Don’t you remember how nervous you were to check your mail during the 2001 anthrax attacks? Bioterrorism plays on our post-9/11 fears and anxiety; demonic possession doesn’t.
[Rec 2] neglects to pick up where its predecessor left off, so we’re left to assume that the possessed NiÃ±a Mediros (Javier Botet) did something very nasty to While You Sleep reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco). Instead, BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza send Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor) and a four-man S.W.A.T. team into the locked-down building to further investigate the outbreak.
The S.W.A.T. team members assume Owen’s with the Ministry of Health, but when he subdues one infected soul using religious paraphernalia, we know he’s the Father Merrin of this living nightmare. Revealed to be a priest, Owen’s searching for a Mediros blood sample so he can create a vaccine against the virus.
It’s sad to watch [Rec 2] lazily pilfer from The Exorcist. You half expect during Owen’s interrogation of a possessed teen, when it’s revealed that the all-knowing demon can speak through its host, will twist his head 360 degrees or drop and do the spider walk.
Rather than stick with documenting action via a single camera, BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza shake things up by using helmet cams worn by S.W.A.T. team members. This allows them to cut into the devilish goings-on elsewhere in the building whenever the officers split up. It also adds a gamers’ aspect to the display of firepower by the S.W.A.T. team.
BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza, though, make the mistake of shifting perspectives midway through [Rec 2]. When the S.W.A.T. team loses the camera feeds, the directors focus on three teens that document their ridiculous efforts to sneak into the apartment. This brings things to a grinding halt – with BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza already bogging down [Rec 2] with too much exposition, it would have been more effective to just explain how the kids got into the building than 10 minutes chronicling their break-in. Plus, we know the kids are only there to advance the demon’s diabolical scheme, so it’s impossible to give a damn whether they make it through the night.
Then again, BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza don’t take much time introducing us to Dr. Owen and the S.W.A.T. team members. The most significant character remains the building. It’s as dark, creepy, and intimidating as it was in [Rec]. Sadly, we don’t see much of the building that we have not already seen – at least not until the end, when BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza employ night vision for the final confrontation between man and demon.
[Rec]‘s climax demanded the use of night vision: it was the last tool Vidal had at her disposal to survive her ordeal. Night vision also plays a vital part at the end of [Rec 2]. It’s understandable that BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza again want the camera to serve as participant rather than just a passive witness. But they come up with the most contrived way to turn the lights off on our heroes and have them wrestle with the demon in the dark.
Flaws aside, [Rec 2] moves at a relentlessly frenetic pace. BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza rarely stop to let us catch our breath – aside from the interlude with the kids – as we rush from one danger-filled apartment to the next. The problem is, [Rec] prepared us for everything BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza throws at us in the sequel. We know this building too well, so we can anticipate what’s behind this door or in that stairwell. This familiarity saps [Rec 2] of much of its tension and diminishes the impact of many genuine scares.
Some fun comes out of spotting many of [Rec]‘s hapless victims among the possessed. But the surprise return of one of [Rec]‘s major protagonists, though, merely raises a red flag about how BalaguerÃ³ and Plaza intend to wrap up things. Or at least pave the way for the inevitable [Rec 3].
Hopefully, though, [Rec 3] won’t also want to make me run into that damned apartment and smash every camera in sight.