This movie has been on my watchlist for quite a while, now. I’d heard it was a zombie movie; I’d heard it was good. I need to start trusting the armchair movie critic hive-mind again, because it was a bloody good watch.
[REC] follows – literally follows – budding TV news reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her hapless cameraman Pablo (voice: Javier Coromina; body: Pablo Rosso – not weird, that’s just how they cast it) as they cover a graveyard shift news TV slot, interviewing firemen at a station in Barcelona. When they are called out along with the other emergency services to deal with a trapped elderly lady in a small block of flats, things turn frightening when the lady, screaming frantically and covered in blood, viciously rips out part of a policeman’s face. And it’s truly disgusting, all while caught on film by the cameraman.
The zombie-ness starts out slow with this one, because of the various reaction/conversion times based on blood-type. It’s refreshing to see a movie in this genre settling in between the initial “WTF! Zombies?” stage and “everyone and everything I know is gone” stage. The inhabitants are sealed in by the police, the military and the BNC (the movie’s Spanish equivalent of the CDC), who offer up some explanations as to what’s been going on, so we get to see that a bit of that process (something I’m guessing that World War Z revelled in, though I’ve not seen that one yet).
Not that there’s much to see; on paper, the combination of shaky videocam + frequent “lights-out” moments in a one-building setting, it would seem like the movie was a cheap, one-note flick with a very, very, limited budget. In fact, my husband opined that perhaps the reason they cut away from a character taking a mallet to a zombie’s face was that they might not have had enough money to show a realistic-enough-looking smashed-in head.
But the confined yet not-too-confined setting definitely works without seeming overly-cliched. It’s plausible that a quarantine would be in effect, and the building is old enough that the apartments are huge, there are random doors and gates and storage, and, worse of all, the zombies are somewhat stealthy, mildly intuitive, and surprisingly resourceful. This is lent a brilliantly dark twinge of gallows humour by the idiotic yet realistic actions of the human characters. Example: there’s a sturdy metal shutter that the characters use to quickly separate themselves from two zombies. The humans turn away, yelling at Pablo to stop filming, and the zombies lift up the shutter. The humans yell about the shutter and push it back down. The humans then turn away again and the cycle resumes. Hilarious!
Speaking of humans, many of the characters are very one-note (you might say, almost…zombie-like.
Sorry), and despite the brief, scattered vignettes of interviews that are designed to endear us to their quirks, the other inhabitants of the building are never fleshed ( sorry) out further than potential zombie fodder. I’d like to have seen a bit more about either of the police officers, or even Pablo, but much of the focus is on Angela.
And what a very convincing job she does, partly, it could be argued, due to the fact that Velasco was already a real-life TV presenter beforehand. Her opening scenes portray her as peppy, ambitious, annoying, yet with an endearing zeal that’s almost a cliche of TV presenters just starting out in midnight no-man’s-land. Having a protagonist like this also enhances this new twist on the “found footage” format (i.e. professional-quality found footage), such a moment in which Angela insist on seeing playback of a crucial moment caught on film; she’s so wrapped up in what she’s seeing that not only do we have to watch the playback (again), but when the camera cuts back, she’s babbling on about herself and standing directly in front of the camera, unaware that a potential threat is behind her.
So it’s fair to say that [REC] is not short on tension. It does so without overlong build-ups or overly-cloying editing techniques, or throwing in any silly plot devices- the situations are plausible; the conflict and reactions are believable, all leading up to one hell of a cracking ending.