Manuela Velasco - Angela Vidal
Ferran Terraza - Manu
Jorge-Yamam Serrano - Sergio
Pablo Rosso - Pablo
David Vert - Alex
Vicente Gil - Police Officer
Claudia Font - Jennifer
Genre - Horror/Found Footage/Virus/Zombies
Running Time - 76 Minutes
Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso), are shooting an episode for a show that documents the night life in Spain. The segment being filmed this night is centered around the night shift of a local fire station to see their routines and film them in action during an emergency. While filming mundane things like playing basketball and eating at the dining hall, the fire station gets a call to an apartment building. Angela and Pablo join two firefighters (Ferran Terraza and David Vert) as they answer to the complaints of the tenants, who are complaining about a disturbed woman who may be have come down with a bad illness. Before they get any answers, the tenants infected with this illness begin attacking the others as outside personnel decide to quarantine the building to keep the virus from getting out.
- The simple narrative. [REC]'s strength comes from a really easy to understand story structure that's leaves you satisfied, even when the questions increase and the answers become more scarce. [REC] plays like your typical zombie film, isolating characters within a scenario where infected/dead people want to chew on their flesh without any sort of explanation behind it. Instead of revealing any sort of backstory for the characters, we learn about each one during the course of the film just by watching their behavior and the actions they make in order to understand and survive their situation. [REC] is a film that thrives on being "in the moment". It's a familiar structure that's probably pretty old at this point, but when it works, it works.
The story is extremely well told in its simplicity. In fact, [REC] is sprinkled with hints and clues as to what's going on, making us slap ourselves for not seeing things sooner. But even when we get the answer, it still leaves a lingering question that creates a layer of uncertainty and mystery to make us want to know more. Through the dialogue and the banter between the characters, which is quite funny at times, we learn a lot about the situation and what may have caused it without really realizing it at the time. [REC] is one of those films where repeated viewings may give you most of the pieces of the puzzle due to its subtle storytelling.
As for the cause of the virus outbreak, I feel [REC] does a better job at the reveal than its American remake, 2008's QUARANTINE, does. QUARANTINE's resolution is a bit more straightforward about what's happening, making the audience figure it out pretty much two-thirds into the film. It has more of a anti-government slant when it comes to the reveal, making the military personnel who quarantine the building really look like villains who know what's going on and are trying to cover their ass by making sure the virus outbreak is contained inside that building. The fact that they shoot and kill people who try to escape shows that they want no knowledge of this being released.
[REC] doesn't make the resolution that obvious. In fact, there's never a feeling that the film is trying to criticize the government or science at all. Unlike in QUARANTINE, the people behind the quarantine seem to be doing it at the best interests for everyone, even if they do know more than they're letting on. Everyone involved seem to be clueless as to what's going on and about how bad the situation truly is, creating a greatest feeling of tension and fear of the unknown. As to why the situation is happening to begin with, [REC] doesn't give a clear answer unlike in the remake. Is it a virus? Is it something more supernatural? Is it both? None? We're never really sure. Because of this, I feel [REC] has the much stronger ending even if both versions are pretty similar. The person Angela encounters at the very end of the film seems to have more of a place in [REC] than she does in QUARANTINE, making it more chilling.
- The acting. I think both [REC] and QUARANTINE has some really good acting, so it's really tough to say which film has the better actors because they bring different things to their respective roles. I think the acting in [REC] is a bit more effective, only because the actors are more unknown and truly give authentic performances that make you somewhat believe this is actually happening. Maneula Velasco is fantastic as Angela Vidal. Jennifer Carpenter did a good job in the remake, but Velasco is more believable as a reporter who wants a juicy story. She looks great on camera, she has a ton of personality, and I believe her when she pushes people around to capture footage and when she acts frightened by this situation she got herself trapped in. Sure she can come across as bitchy, but I can believe a journalist would behave that way to create a story people will want to see and talk about. I think in some ways, Carpenter tried a bit too hard at times while Velasco does it without a sweat. The other actors are all great as well, all contributing to sell this terrible scenario, but it's truly Velasco's show all the way. She carried the film very well.
- The direction. While the whole "found footage" deal in horror is a bit tired at this point, at least Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza use it in a way that proves it does have a place in the modern age of cinema. Using just a handheld camcorder, Balaguero and Plaza create a feeling of claustrophobia, dread, and uneasiness once our characters enter that apartment building. We see what these two directors want us to see, making the viewer an unwilling spectator to all this horror. The shaky cam can be a distraction to most people, but I think it works great here. It creates a lot of tension and anxiety for those scenes. Plus I thought the night vision at the end was a really nice touch, making what Angela sees more creepy than it would in normal light. Plus the use of scares [which still made me jump even though I knew when they were coming, having seen [REC] before] and gore [yum] aren't use all that much, making those moments more powerful. I think both Balaguero and Plaza did a solid job, as [REC] is really about what we see than the actual story itself. Top notch stuff.
- No opening credits or soundtrack. [REC] starts right away and doesn't let up until those end credits roll and acknowledge that this is indeed just a movie. I think the lack of title cards and opening credits create a realistic feeling that wouldn't be there if [REC] made it known that this was a professional film. As for the soundtrack, there is none. All we get are ambient sounds and dialogue, and it works amazingly.
- More sympathetic characters. Besides Angela and maybe Pablo, the other characters in the film don't get enough screen time to make the viewer really care about them all that much. Sure, most of these characters are there just to die, but if I cared about them more, their deaths would be more effective. I think one of the things QUARANTINE did better than [REC] was during the first act, where we got to know the two firefighter characters a bit, making what happens to them more tragic. In [REC], we don't really get that. I think the remake did this slightly better than the original.
THE FINAL HOWL
While QUARANTINE is a good American remake, it doesn't top [REC]. This isn't because I prefer originals over remakes, which isn't always the case. It's because the story flows better and is more effective in [REC]. It's because the acting feels more real in [REC]. It's because the direction feels more authentic in [REC]. [REC] is just the superior movie, even though I believe both versions are worth watching just for comparison. Sure, [REC] isn't all that original and could be predictable at times. But Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza get around that to create a pretty chilling film that all horror fans should definitely watch and possibly own. With [REC]2 already out and [REC]3: GENESIS and [REC]4: APOCALYPSE coming out in 2012 and 2013, the story doesn't seem to be ending any time soon.
3.5 Howls Outta 4