Directors: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Screenplay: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza and Luis Berdejo
Running Time: 78 min
“[There are] corrupt perfumes, rich and triumphant – Possessing the expansiveness of infinite things – Like amber, musc, benzoin and incense…” Charles Baudelaire’s verses from "Correspondances"(Les Fleurs du Mal/ The Flowers of Evil, 1857) can be applied to Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s new masterful horror. REC starts slowly, in a sterile nightly environment, an eerie fire department in a small town somewhere in Spain, and develops into something first intangible, then unbearably monstrous. The best horror film of the year (along with The Orphanage) possesses the decadence of Baudelaire’s darkest poems, Edgar Poe’s morbid imaginings and H.P. Lovecraft’s nauseous world, its musty smell concealing decaying abominations.
While covering a tedious night shift at the station, brazen TV reporter Ángela (Manuela Velasco, Goya winner for Best Newcomer) and her cameraman follow the crew on a call to rescue an elderly woman incapable of escaping the inferno consuming her home. As they reach the building, the air is pierced by horrific screams, and the TV crew jump out of their flying van into the fire.
As in The Blair Witch Project, the hand-held camera is used by two people, a cameraman we barely see, and young and ambitious go-getter Angela. If it takes a good thirty minutes to adjust to the jittery pans, it is a half-hour well spent. Angela’s brisk walk through the station’s deserted corridors creates a feeling of boredom, infused with growing dread as the TV and fire crews step into the infected building. David Gallart’s award-winning editing, teamed with Pablo Rosso’s atmospheric cinematography, plunges the audience into a frantic nightmare that alternates adrenaline-fuelled zombie chases with excruciating pauses on still silhouettes staring from afar, their eyes black holes slowly absorbing the characters’ energy.
Gallart and Rosso’s solid work reflects Balaguero and Plaza’s clever use of the digital medium. The camera, eye of the beholder, is a witness, but also a voyeur and a predator, scrupulously recording every neck-biting incident, and tracking traumatised occupants up a winding stairway to Hell. The sole testimony of a potentially horrific situation which the authorities are desperately trying to nip in the bud, Angela’s report gets partly erased, rewound, watched and re-watched in an attempt to rationalize the supernatural and control the rampant hysteria which shakes the terrified inhabitants and nefarious building to their foundations.
From Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Days Later (2007) to George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2008), contemporary zombie movies are legion, but REC’s claustrophobic setting and intricate screenplay renew the genre. More than a simple fear engine, the film also provides an accurate psycho-social study of antagonistic characters cynically abandoned by a ruthless government, and ready to cheat, steal, and kill to save their skin. REC shares many themes and gory scenes - a confined hunting ground, a matricide, strong political under-currents, etc - with Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead (1968), and its shocking ending, coronary-inducing and thought-provoking, proves once again that beautifully crafted and creative Spanish horror is not a second-class contender to America and Japan’s guts and gore.