Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza's [REC] (2007)

In the non-documentary film where one of the actors (or participants) is filming the action of which he/she is also participating, the technique not only breaks the "fourth-wall" of traditional cinema but also creates a myriad of logical problems for the discerning viewer. I ain't one of them and will not address that issue. I will say, however, that Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is a masterful use of this technique. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's [Rec] (2007) adopts a similar formula for its approximately eighty-minute run time. [Rec] is a fantastic piece of horror cinema, no doubt aided by its "news-reporting" technique and other fantastic flourishes.
[Rec] begins with the pushing of the record button by its camera man, Pablo. He's filming Ángela (Manuela Velasco) at a fire station for their television program "While You Were Asleep," as the sun begins to set. Discovering that life for firefighters is fairly mundane and boring during the evening (dining, sleeping, movie-watching, and pick-up basketball games), Ángela hopes and prays that the alarm will go off, allowing Pablo and her an opportunity to film the firefighters in action. Ángela gets her wish. She climbs aboard a truck with firefighters, Manu (Ferrán Terraza) and Álex (David Vert), who are going to an apartment building in the middle of Barcelona to come to the rescue of an older woman, locked inside of her home. As Ángela, Pablo, Manu, and Álex enter the building, the residents are huddled in the lobby, and two police officers are already there. Inside the old woman's apartment, the old woman is disheveled and moving like a caged animal. A police officer attempts to provide some care and is rewarded with a bite attack from the ravenous woman. She is subdued by the crew, who quickly exit to attend to their wounded comrade, only to be stopped at the building's entrance by the local police force, who has locked down the building in a quarantine. Ángela and Pablo, filming all the while, seemingly have gotten the action they so have desired.[Rec] is focused: no clunky expository dialogue; no peripheral characters; no ridiculously over dramatic music accompanying the action; and nothing glaringly artificial to take the viewer out of the experience. The lack of exposition gives [Rec] real credibility towards creating its "live-on-the-scene" atmosphere and creates also a disorienting effect: the viewer doesn't know anything until its revealed (no foreshadowing), so almost everything is unexpected. Álex and Manu are both characters which seem like real people (the types of folks who would grow up to become firefighters); the apartment building's residents are a diverse crew of tenants (each standing out as his/her own unique character); and Ángela and Pablo are amazingly credible as a professional couple (a true sense of these two working together for quite awhile is apparent, as each seemingly knows what's on the other's mind). Of course the lack of music only heightens the tension, and Balagueró and Plaza are able to focus their audio on more interesting touches, such as a very interesting use of audio when a character falls from the stairs to the screams and screeches of the antagonists and the victims to the sounds of bones crunching, feet pounding up the stairs, the loud report of a gunshot, and the clamoring of steel doors. In [Rec] the primary location of the very real-looking and large apartment building creates a excellent sense of claustrophobia to make the film almost a perfect rendering of survival horror. Manuela Velasco, as Ángela, gives a terrific performance, and her character carries the film: it is really through her eyes that the viewer experiences [Rec] and not through Pablo's camerawork. Balagueró and Plaza use a filming technique that's rarely employed effectively and execute it nearly seamlessly. [Rec] is also an excellent blend of atmospheric and gore-laden horror, enough of each to satisfy the modern horror fan. The red of the blood looks like it's from a recent crime scene, and the old Spanish architecture of the apartment building looks as if Erika Blanc could sashay downstairs at any moment. The directorial duo also effectively knows when to slow down the action to punctuate the extremely intense horror sequences, and when [Rec] goes into its final act, the film flies to a nail-biting conclusion. Above all, [Rec] reveals at the end and revels in its most enduring quality, so lacking in today's modern horror cinema: creativity. See it.

7 comments:

pickleloaf said...

just saw this a couple nights ago and thought it was outstanding.

the ending had my wife checking under the bed!

Emily said...

Great review Hans. I'd forgotten how effective the lack of score was. The film does such a great job of not cueing you into what's coming next.

Aaron said...

I haven't seen this one yet because I saw Quarantine first and felt it was kinda pointless to see REC even though it's the original and, from what I've heard, much better (although I admit that I did enjoy Quarantine). My question is will it be as effective a viewing experience even though I've already seen Quarantine? If so then I'll most def check it out.

Mr.LargePackage said...

Great review Hans. A similar situation happened to me while I was in Spain visiting a sick friend. The police came and quarantined the whole building and I couldn't get out. The people around me all started becoming infected and chasing me up and down the stairs and from room to room. But there was one thing the infected didn't know but soon found out: I am large and in charge.

Matt-suzaka said...

Great review for a great film, Hans! I'm very happy that you liked it.

[REC] and Let the Right One In were my two favorite films of last year. First time I was scared by a film in quite a while. The jump scare were perfectly executed, and the tension that is built throughout the movie is phenomenal.

Also, the camera work is amazing in its use of the verity style...it seems real and doesn't rely on just shaking it around all wacky and shit. That was the case with Quarantine. It is an instant horror classic.

Aaron, I would suggest that you check out [REC] definitely, I have seen both films and [REC] is much better...though I saw Quarantine second.

Hans A. said...

Thnx for the kind words everybody. I really, really appreciate them. I'm just glad this flick gets the love it deserves. Aaron, I haven't seen Quarantine, so I defer to Matt's better judgment. Thnx again, y'all.

pickleloaf said...

as someone who gets motion sickness quite easily, the mixing up of camera styles (as opposed to all-shaky, all the time) was very welcomed