Reviewed by Scott Weinberg
Originality is often overrated. There's nothing wrong with hearing the same story multiple times -- provided the storyteller has some new angle, some novel approach, or at least one fresh idea on display. That's why I can watch a "zombies run amok" horror flick like [REC] and still express a lot of enthusiasm for the flick, while also plainly admitting that it's hardly the newest story under the sun. But, like I said, it's a potentially standard zombie-fest that works exceedingly well because the directors have a cool and (relatively) fresh approach to the material. Or, at the very least, it's an approach that's attempted often, but rarely pulled off so successfully.
The "approach" (some would say "gimmick") is that handy old first-person, "Blair Witch Project" style of faux-doco filmmaking. And you know what? After seeing what Diary of the Dead, Cloverfield, and now [REC] have done with the gimmick, I'm not ready to retire the trick just yet. (And we're due for at least one more: Sony's [REC] remake, Quarantine, is scheduled for release later this year.) Combine the BWP visual approach with a plot culled from The Evil Dead, Poltergeist, and The Exorcist ... that's sort of what we've got here. And yeah, it's just about as fun as that combo sounds.
Clocking in at a brisk 70+ minutes, and without an ounce of fat on its frame, [REC] is about a two-person camera crew that tags along with a platoon of firemen. At first things are pretty boring, but a basic call comes in (something involving a sick old woman), and off we go. Led by our TV hostess and her hard-working cameraman, we're taken to a big ol' apartment building, but when the firemen head upstairs to take care of the sick old woman -- she goes batty and starts biting people. Hard. When the rescue team tries to leave the apartment building, they (and we) discover that the edifice has been duly quarantined. Oh, and that old lady? What she's got is VERY contagious. And yes, there are several other tenants in this building.
Co-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza give us just enough "set-up" to make the gimmick work, and then once the mayhem starts hitting the apartment walls, [REC] is a shock-a-minute mini-masterpiece of sound design, tricky jolts, and wonderfully distressing tension. As with Blair Witch, Cloverfield, and Diary, the "found footage" technique takes a little getting used to (as do the English subtitles), but once we get knee-deep in the non-stop creeps 'n' carnage, there's little denying that [REC] is a whole lot of ferociously scary fun. (Horror fans may remember these filmmakers from flicks like Second Name, Fragile, and The Dark; those were all warm-ups for this fantastic little freak-show.) And for ME to call a movie scary, that's a pretty big compliment. [REC] is both "boo, gotcha!" scary and unsettling in that "dude, this place is seriously creepy" sort of way. Even when you can feel the co-directors jerking on the strings, it's such a fast-paced and intense ride, you won't mind the basic manipulation.
You probably won't be able to see the original [REC] until Sony has their remake out on the market, and that's kind of a shame. No horror fan should have to wait that long for a flick this fun. My advice is to go the "region-free" route, spend a few bucks on an import DVD, and then keep your fingers crossed that Quarantine is even half as good as [REC]. I don't have a problem with the quick-fix American-ized remake, but let's not keep the original shelved forever.