REVIEW: Blu-ray Only Release: [REC]

Film: [Rec]
Release date: 20th September 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 78 mins
Director: Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Javier Botet, Manuel Bronchud, Martha Carbonell, Vicente Gil
Genre: Horror/Mystery/Thriller
Studio: E1
Format: Blu-ray
Country: Spain

Want proof that a night out with the a Catalonian fire crew can produce more fireworks than a Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid derby? Well then, it sounds like you could do with a dose of Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's shaky-cam-filled-zombie-fest [REC].

The film follows feisty television presenter Angela Vidal and her trusty cameraman Pablo as they tag along with a team of fire fighters as part of a late-night TV show: 'While You're Asleep' – something akin to all of those god-awful hand-held police camera programmes.

After firemen Manu and Alex are introduced, the group set off on what seems to be a fairly innocuous call out to assist an elderly woman who has become trapped in her apartment. Upon their arrival at the aggressively cramped building, they are greeted by the other tenants, as well as two police officers who we soon learn were summoned after screams were heard.

Together with officers Joven and Adulto, the rescue party proceeds up the stairs and into an apartment where it rapidly becomes clear that it is not the elderly woman who requires assistance, but themselves. Upon rushing back to the hall, they find the block sealed from the outside and are informed that the building has been declared a BNC (biological, nuclear or chemical) threat.

The still-living authority figures are now faced with a situation where they must contend with growing panic amongst the surviving occupants whilst seeking an escape route from the nightmare upstairs…

[REC] is, above all things, a breath of fresh air. With George Romero's attempts to rekindle his former glory growing progressively tedious, and any other contenders to his zombie throne close to non-existent, [REC] stands out as a bold attempt to take the sub-genre in a different direction. And while many of its ideas are not entirely original (the concept of zombies in an apartment block having been covered in the first half hour of the original Dawn Of The Dead), the way it utilises them often is. Moreover, the shift away from Romero's incessant focus on humanity and towards the terror of the monster itself feels – however surprisingly – like a new approach.

What is perhaps the most tired aspect of [REC] is the use of the hand-held camera as a tool for instilling realism. If you're just a little bit sick of Hollywood's constant attempts to relive the Blair Witch Project with character's-view camera work then you'd be forgiven for initially rolling your eyes at the thought of sitting through what has the potential to be nothing more than a Spanish version of American snore-fests like Cloverfield. However, [REC] commits uncompromisingly to the format as a dramatic device in a way that most other films do not, and, in doing so, maintains a consistent and effective dynamic. In short, [REC] achieves with that method of filming what it was originally created to do: transport the viewer into the body of the character - in this case to heighten the terror.

And make no mistake about it, [REC] is scary - really scary. In fact, the camera work sometimes pales in comparison to the horribly dark and narrow apartment building whose winding staircase slowly and inexorably leads the characters to the structures summit where the beating (or not in this case) heart of the nightmare waits. It really is watch-through-your-fingers stuff as the characters struggle to find any kind of sanctuary in a building which obviously was not designed to withstand an internal siege. Character's are bumped off so mercilessly that you're left with the feeling that anything could happen - at any time - and never is this more evident than at [REC]'s nerve-shredding climax.

There really aren't very many negatives about [REC]. It's low-budget but this fact is brilliantly contorted to work in the films favour. Characters die brutally and rapidly, but you still feel like they've been well established enough to make their demise tragic and horrific. It's perhaps not as gory as fans of Romero would like, and the zombies aren't used as an unstoppable horde but as individual nightmares, which could put off hardcore fans.

What [REC] does is single-handedly add another facet to a sub-genre that was in danger of going stale again, and it does so masterfully. It might not be for purists, or heavy Romero fans, but frankly it's their loss because this is one damn fine zombie flick. JD

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