“Don’t you see my face is shiny?”
Here we have another example why people can’t stand Hollywood. 2007 saw the release of the Spanish horror/thriller [Rec], and instead of its great success bringing it overseas for a theatrical release, America decides to create its own water-downed version called Quarantine. These Spaniards have a knack for the scary these days. Think a mix between The Descent and Blair Witch Project and you will get an idea of what [Rec] is. It’s all on a routine call to rescue a woman and get her to the hospital, but as you will see, thanks to a TV crew duo filming the firefighters on the job, it’s not your run-of-the-mill simple task. With great foreshadowing in the truck, the driver saying they don’t put the siren on for non-emergencies, the mission spirals out of control almost on arrival. Shot by the TV cameraman, the screen shakes and whips around to see what detail it can—I’m sure Cloverfield took much from this—in a controlled chaos that feels ad-libbed yet you know it was all orchestrated to amp up the scares, keeping things out of view until the absolute final moment.
Films like this have a tendency to contain some stilted acting, but that is not the case. Everyone involved comes across very naturally, as though it really is a found tape that documented the incident. Our entry point into the tale is Manuela Velasco’s Ángela Vidal, a professional at her work, yet very casual to lend well to her show “While We Were Asleep”. She keeps things light and jokey with the firefighters who explain that the odds of getting a fire call are slim to none; they will probably just need to rescue a pet if anything. The men she interviews come off as nervous in front of the camera, yet composed and confident when put into action. I am a believer in that fact being the sign of good performances. The heroic character, “acting” nervous and shy when the situation calls for it, like a bad actor, is the kind of role I enjoy. One of my favorite moments comes when Ángela interviews César and he thinks it’s this flashy thing that he must prepare and look his best for. When told the camera is rolling, he puts his finger to his chin and poses to look educated and important. It’s a great bit part from Carlos Lasarte.
What really makes the film a success, though, is the break-neck pace and lack of information. We as an audience are on the same boat as the characters in the apartment building, being quarantined due to the chance of a fatal disease being on the loose. No one knows what is happening, not even the policeman locked inside as well. Only when a Health Inspector enters do some questions get answered, but the full-scope of what is happening won’t have light shed upon it until the very end. The zombie aspect of what is trapped inside with them plays out beautifully as it is never blatantly shown. To compare again with the great British flick The Descent, darkness shrouds the creatures lurking and the camera serves as its own blockade too. Even when they are shown, it’s mostly as stationary, harmless people, until they attack. All involved feel no remorse in their bid to survive, killing—or thinking they’ve killed—anyone in the way without a second thought.
The actors are all just a part of the story, we never get any background information, nor do we need it. This is meant to be a filmed account of an incident that the authorities would do their best to keep under wraps, and if I was to compare to the numerous others I’ve seen like it, [Rec] achieves the aesthetic best. Yes, I think Cloverfield is a better film, but that is because it is a film, whereas this is a hand-held event, without the necessity for a three-act structure; it just is what it is. Everything becomes a part of the whole, no one stands out as a lead or hero or villain. In the end, every person trapped inside is just one more piece of food for the infected to hunt and devour; no one is any better than the next.
And while the whole thing moves forward without a break, inevitably showing how they have been left inside, not to discover who will survive and who won’t, but to contain the disease and destroy every last trace, it all culminates and leads towards the ending. The final ten minutes or so, finally unveiling what had been going on to unleash this horror, is absolutely superb. Shot with the flash bulb of the camera, the light is dim, darkness always creeping in at the edges, until even that becomes broken. But it only gets better as a result, the camera switching to the night-vision’s narrow sphere of sight, showing everything in a gray/green negative. What occurs is pretty harrowing and gruesome, but it’s shot with such care for realism that it becomes the ultimate conclusion for what has occurred. Just a brilliant final shot to end the horror; I can’t believe directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza would risk ruining it with the in production sequel [Rec] 2. Hopefully it will be relevant, if unnecessary. It’s easy to say America wants the money and to not have to read Spanish subtitles, hence remaking it just a short year later, but to have the original minds risk credibility with a sequel, you have to hope it’s a story that deserves to be told and not a cheap way to make more cash.
[Rec] 8/10 | ★ ★ ★