For the few people who have been reading my blog since its inception over two years ago will be more than aware of my constant quest to find the perfect found footage films, delving far back to the somewhat unbearable, yet historically relevant Cannibal Holocaust and engaging with more contemporary works like The Bay and Chronicle in hopes of finding more hope for the genre's continued success. [REC] was one film within this cannon that I had been meaning to undertake and had let percolate on my DVD shelf for nearly as long as I have had this blog up and running. Suffice it to say, the wait was more than worth it, proving to be one of the most narratively, cinematically an jarringly engaging works within the found footage horror sub-genre I have ever witnessed. While it will still pale in comparison to the revelation that was The Poughkeepsie Tapes, [REC] begins in the most innocuous of manner, only to end in one of the more dark and disturbing of spaces ever committed to in found footage. [REC] beyond being a stellar work within the sub-genre, also stands on its own as a work of horror filmmaking at its height, using a variety of traditional tricks for the genre to create an ambiance and general sense of dread from the very opening of the film, always aware that in regards to this particular style of filmmaking, much of the fear and anxiety comes from not only what the camera accidentally captures, but from what it will always fail to catch, particularly when the device used to capture the events begins to fall apart on itself. Indeed, if, as I and others have suggested, the found footage sub-genre exists as a sort of commentary on the post-modern nature of horror filmmaking then [REC] is this notion at its most realized, resulting in a slew of sequels as well as the ever present American remake. The joint direction of Jaume Balageuro and Paco Plaza manages to become both a look at what can scares viewers within the purportedly honest filmmaking style of found footage horror, while also extending the unique lens of this sub-genre to consider very deep issues of social divides, both rooted in physical and philosophical differences, never at one allowing those engaging with the film a moment to catch their breath and regroup themselves emotionally. If cinema, as Tom Gunning suggests, is a thing of attractions, [REC] considers how this attraction can occur without being a necessarily pleasurable experience.
[REC] begins as many found footage films do, in media res, focusing on journalist Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) as she and her unseen cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) capture footage for their informative expose show While You Are Asleep. It is during this particular night on the job that they are tasked with filming the work of a firefighting crew, Angela hoping that since the job is particularly rife with physical challenge and danger that she will be able to cut together a particularly engaging episode of the show. Despite meeting interesting people at the job, including the strong-willed and likable Manu (Ferran Terraza) it appears as though the evening will be rather underwhelming, until the station receives a call to aid in the opening of a locked apartment, where the neighbors and owners confessed to hearing screams coming from the room. Upon arrival, the Angela, Pablo and the firefighters find almost the entire apartment complex awaiting their arrival with looks of concern and confusion upon their faces, begging that the crew immediately resolve the issue. Upon entering the locked room they discover an older woman disheveled and half dressed jumping about her room and making disturbing shrieks and gargling noises. Assuming her to be on some sort of drug trip or suffering from high degrees of hysteria they attempt to approach her in help, only to have one firefighter be bitten by the maniacal woman, immediately going into shock after the events. When another firefighter plummets to his death and other individuals start taking severely and violently ill, the apartment residents and the crew attempt to exit the building only to be stopped by a SWAT team informing them that they are now in a quarantined space, incapable of leaving until a health inspector has entered and can provide the necessary tests and vaccinations. Yet when this occurs and more outbreaks take the other residents and at one point the health inspector himself, Angela and Pablo begin planning their own escape, only to realize that what was initially believed to be a disease that spreads through saliva might well be the result of a much more sinister force, leading them in a face to face encounter with a truly disturbing entity.
[REC] avoids the pitfall of many a found footage films where a director, who usually doubles as a writer on the film, finds it necessary to make every character involved hyper-aware of the situation, dropping dialogue and narrative hints that suggest a complete understanding of every obstacle and a even more keen understanding of the presence of a camera in the situation. Balaguero and Plaza do no such thing, realizing that the camera in the space of this film can be both a point of benefit for catching moments of human degradation and occasionally triumph, but often fails to do so with any degree of cinematic pleasure. At first, I found myself frustrated with the particularly blurry and shaky quality of this found footage film only to realize that in its stylistic endeavors this breaking down of the visual aid is perhaps more accurate than most, never fully painting an accessible picture of the events, only half revealing the narrative elements, because as is the case with films like this the work is supposedly a rediscovery of an item that was never afforded a means to edit itself into cohesion. Of course, films like The Bay and The Poughkeepsie Tapes change this by making the narrative work within the frame of a documentary style. Nonetheless, [REC] is wholly an incomplete document and, as such, carries with it a certain degree of eeriness as a result. I do not mean to say that this lack of full cohesion makes it an incomplete experience, but instead a decidedly more accurate one, causing the narratives of distrust, paranoia and perversion to become believable, so in that by the time viewers are shown the reveal in the closing moments of the film it is both baffling, but not so inconceivable as to drive away those watching from continuing on the thrilling ride. At times [REC] does become aesthetically profound, whether it be something as simple as a girl, moments away from turning via the disease confronting the camera, or a defeated lingering on a man in a hazmat suit entering the building, [REC] kowtows to the possibilities of the cinematic form to be gripping even in its least technical performances, and almost as a way to play with the audience, the film calls attention to its very narrative in the closing line of the film, only to immediately follow this with a title card and notably non-diegetic music playing over the credits.
Key Scene: The hazmat suits preparing to enter the building is a moment of tragic serenity in an otherwise non-stop thrill ride of film.
[REC] is readily available to all those interested in viewing the film, which, in my mind, should be everyone.