The history of horror movies in the last 40 years is littered with stories where our kind find themselves under attack from something that defies comprehension despite looking familiar. These are stories where our very survival is based on fighting off those hunting us, and where we find ourselves no longer at the top of the food chain as society breaks down and our other selves become our foes. We are faced with something remorseless and seemingly unstoppable, something that may look like us and even once may have been the same as us. Vampires, Zombies and the infected have lumbered through our nightmares threatening a contagion and the destruction of what we believe ourselves to be.
This kind of horror movie has taken on greater meaning with the context of the real world becoming a key inspiration to the nature of this threat of the other. The daddy of all of these kinds of films, George Romero, has gone to the allegorical well on a number of occasions using besieged humanity as an excuse to discuss civil rights, capitalism and the modern fortress America of the rich. In his most recent zombie flick, Romero chose to included the modern media of the internet and virals, and the current culture of the filming of everything that happens in order to make it real as a spectacle. Whilst Romero's film takes a road trip across America, the very similar treatment of the Spanish horror [Rec] takes place almost entirely with an apartment building and reserves its social comment purely for the ethics of the new media culture of reality programming.
Beginning with a somewhat two-faced camera crew shadowing the night shift at the local fire department, the story finds itself with plenty of opportunity to expose the staged nature of reality TV and its manipulation of its subjects. A lack of emergency calls leads to a very slow night full of boring interviews for the team until they are called out to a series of flats where an old woman seems to have gone loco. Finally with some entertainment in the offing, the film crew eat up the resulting carnage of what is revealed to be a deadly rabid contagion. The first two attacks provide great footage but when the authorities cordon off the building, TV is no longer a spectator but a possible victim as the journalists bray about the public interest and recording the events in the cause of truth but are scared stiff of their potential casting as victims.
The film-makers enjoy their pot shots at the media, but what they really do well is scare the viewer and offer up gut churning pseudo-documentary events which rattle the hell out of you. Made up entirely of the footage shot through a portable camera with little light and lots of shaking, [Rec] is a very well realised rough cut of the terror we see. Music is not used in order to avoid a sense of melodrama, and only the sounds of creaks, echoes and scurrying offer any atmosphere other than the pregnant silence. It is a supremely spooky experience which cranks up the atmosphere all the way to a climax in almost total darkness which tears away any sense of safety or possibility of escape.
Naturalistic acting, casting which emphasises normal looking people over performers, and a perfectly paced development hit their bullseye and I have to admit that having seen a couple of Balaguero's films before I never imagined he could have achieved anything as raw and direct as this. The observation of how the camera changes people's behaviour and brings out their vanity is well made, and the sense of building xenophobia and hysteria lends themselves brilliantly to the chaos as events go well beyond the point of return. Like last year's 28 Weeks Later, Plaza and Balaguero's film delivers both action and frights and it will reinforce the growing reputation of European horror of recent years.
The last two years have seen great European horrors from France in Frontiers, A L'interieur, and Ils, great work from Spanish language cinema from J A Bayona, Del Toro and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, and even a decent couple of outings from Blighty in The Cottage and Outpost. With the exception of Pan's Labyrinth, which is always a special case, [Rec] is as good as any of the above. It provides gutsy, thrilling horror and doesn't know how to stop, as much as I enjoyed Diary of the Dead this is a better and more effective film that exceeds expectations.
An exceptionally good horror movie.
The main feature is presented on its own dual layer disc accompanied by trailers for other Contender releases. Given the decision to shoot on video, the visual quality is pretty limited but this transfer seems to be a strong presentation of what is meant to possess motion shake, mountains of grain, comet trails and blurring. The lack of lighting throughout presents challenges for the management of contrast but despite the darkness, this is a sharp image which retains the deliberate murkiness and allows the shadows and atmosphere to come alive. The colours in the image are either non-existent or deliberately over lit but there are a few sequences which where you can assess the palette of the transfer which as you can see from the stills handles flesh tones well. Grain is never too much of an issue as it adds to the verité of the experience and the few imperfections such as aliasing are rare. As this is meant to be pretty rough and ready with motion shake and the weaknesses of the original video obvious, I felt that the transfer is strong, keeping the reality TV feel whilst maintaining contrast and black levels.
The audio tracks includes two surround options. The sound was a particular challenge of this film and given the effort to have a naturalistic approach too elaborate a design would seem worthless, consequently the surround effects strive mostly to capture ambience rather than to create a thrill ride. A good comparison would be with The Orphanage which has superbly structured sound which comes from anywhere, this track keeps the front of the mix busy with voices and, only when absolutely necessary do the rear speakers get deployed. Consequently, rather than be constantly impressing the listener, the surround is used to emphasise the documentary feel. The voices are clearly reproduced on all options except when confusion is meant to reign, and there seem to be no mastering issues with the sound. I preferred what I perceived as greater clarity from the DTS track, although the 5.1 mix is a good option as well. The removable English subtitles contain accurate translations of the original Spanish and the type and presentation is easy to read and appropriately situated within the screen.
The second disc contains a booty of extras beginning with a making of featurette which shows both directors discussing their inspiration for the film and how they went about the shoot. Cut with location shots of the film as it was shot and directed, Balaguero is the much more hands on of the two directors getting very involved with the actors whilst Plaza is more laid back concerning himself with keeping any changes to the script and scene plans. Both are much more animated when talking about the movie with the former much more chatty about the desire to make a film that was naturalistic and their choice of firemen as heroic types. The two re-appear for a short interview about the film where they speak in English and acknowledge that they were inspired by films like The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust.
We get interviews with the sound designer, Oriol Tarrago, and the sound director, Xavi Mas, about the difficulties of this particular kind of spontaneous shoot and using as much onset sound as possible rather than relying on post production. The main interview is with the director of photography, Pablo Rosso, who is the cameraman within the film and whose acting début this is. He talks about his previous experience of the two directors and the approach of not planning ahead but dealing with each day's scenes as they come.
There is a musical animated poster art gallery and a short trailer and teaser for the film, but more featurettes are included. These include Manuela Velasco talking about her experience getting cast and on the film, excerpts from the casting sessions and behind the scenes footage of the directors at work. Not content with this, there are 4 deleted scenes and 3 extended scenes, along with the whole of the tape recording found at the end of the film. The extended scenes cover the opening at the fire station and the interviews that the camera crew do whilst in the house, and the deleted scenes include a very effective and spooky night vision sequence involving a corridor of nails. The main reason for excisions seems to have been the tempo and length of the film and I don't feel that any of the cuts were the wrong decisions. All of these extras possess good clear and optional English subtitles.
A very nice set with a good transfer and plentiful extras. There is a Spanish Blu-ray release which has all of the extras here plus a couple of new ones such as a commentary, but that is reportedly a 1080i disc without English subtitles for the extras, as is also the case for the ordinary DVD release over there. I am unaware of other DVD releases around but in comparison with the English unfriendly Spanish discs, this seems to be a good option for a fine film.
Last updated: 17/06/2018 06:33:55