Thursday, October 22, 2015

[Rec]

Alfred Hitchcock is credited with saying, "Drama is life with the dull bits cut out." The problem with [Rec] (2007) is it's a found footage zombie movie with the dull bits left in. If anything, [Rec] is proof that sometimes a horror movie can be too realistic for its own good. That's not because it hits on truths too close to home but because it makes for a thriller that is equally terrifying as it is frustrating and tedious.

We follow the action in [Rec] through the camera of Pablo, a cameraman for a Barcelona news program called "While You're Asleep." We never see Pablo, but we see his host, Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), as she and Pablo follow firefighters on a midnight run to an apartment building. Once inside, the firemen and news crew find themselves trapped with all the other residents as zombies infest the building and the police barricade them inside. Angela orders Pablo to keep filming, but the terrible secret of the outbreak reveals a more horrifying truth.

When I say [Rec] seems genuinely filmed by a person really going through that situation, that is both a compliment and detraction. It's gritty, raw, intense, chaotic, and really plants the viewer in the middle of what's going on. There's no music or professionally staged camera setups that would suggest artifice. The downside is the camera never stops moving, and the camera operator rarely holds it steady, except during the quiet, interview pieces between the zombie attacks. After a while, this gets annoying and distracting because when you want to get a good look at look something, the camera prevents you from doing so.

But I can already hear some of you saying: but isn't that the point of the found footage genre? Real life isn't always so clear and easy to see, and when you're presenting a subjective perspective, shouldn't it reflect reality as much as possible? Real-life home movies and news footage rarely capture the whole story, so it's believable some important stuff is missed. Yes, that's all true, but even in a movie depicting ostensibly real events, I do think there needs to be a balance between being real and being dramatically and visually coherent. And it would certainly help if [Rec] didn't drag its feet to get to its cool ending and repeat itself quite a bit.

As I would expect of people going through a zombie infestation, these characters spend a lot of time shouting at each other, becoming hysterical, crying, and making all sorts of LOUD NOISES. These conversations repeat a lot: turn the camera off, keep it running, we have to get out of here, what's going, what's wrong with these people, etc. It would have helped if the characters were better defined and given more to do, but too often, it's a lot of shrill screaming, repeated ultimatums and explanations, and people explaining things to the camera that we've already witnessed. When the zombies attack, the movie is pretty nifty, but there's a lot of dead spots between the action.

The film takes off with its climactic revelation of the origin of the zombie virus, and this is where the movies goes from passable zombie flick to something really terrifying. It's set almost in total darkness as the survivors find themselves locked in a cramped room filled with religious iconography and newspaper clippings. A voice on a tape recorder fills in the requisite back story, and then a horrifying creature appears and the movie concludes with an unforgettable final image. I only wish the rest of the movie was as good as this ending.

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