Some horror movies have a cerebral bent, using the supernatural or extreme as metaphors for daily horrors and social issues. Others aim for a psychological effect, to tap into collective fears and deeper psychoses. Then there are movies like Spanish festival hit [REC], that simply aim to create the cinematic equivalent of a rollercoaster – a feat that [REC] most definitely achieves.

Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo are heading out to follow a couple of firemen around on their nightly duties as part of their ‘day in the life’ TV programme, “While You’re Asleep”. However, an apparently routine call to free an elderly woman trapped in her apartment suddenly becomes more sinister when the whole building is closed off with Angela, Pablo and the firemen still in it due to some kind of mysterious disease outbreak.

[REC] is all shown through Pablo’s camera, in that Cannibal Holocaust/Blair Witch Project style that has become very big recently through such releases as Diary of the Dead, Cloverfield and The Zombie Diaries – although [REC] (narrowly) precursors all of these.

It is a style that aims to immerse the audience into the action to increase the thrills – and here, it works magnificently due to some terrific and clever work behind the camera and solid work in front. In particular, Velasco proves utterly charming in her role and we immediately sympathise with her even though her role for much of the film is reduced to running and screaming.

The premise is simple and the plot streamlined, but the script is deceptively intelligent. Minor characters are remarkably well-drawn so that even in a relatively large cast, everyone remains distinctive. From the bickering and confused elderly couple, to the preening camp hairdresser, to the young agent badly out of his depth yet struggling for control and Manu, the fireman who proves himself heroic and resourceful, all are painted as real human beings.

The filming is even more intricate. The conceit of Pablo being a professional cameraman, used to chasing journalistic subjects, allows the filmmakers to ease off the ‘shaky cam’ and shots are perfectly lit and framed for maximum effect. Take, for example, the shot where Angela is breathlessly talking to camera with a dead body in the background over her shoulder. As she speaks, she keeps moving so the body drops out of view behind her and we are constantly wondering, has it got back up? Is it going to suddenly jump on her?

There are jump scares galore, but the pacing is perfect. The story allows for lulls, where we explore characters and get background information, before launching into the next eruption of chaos. Everything culminates in a killer climax and in a razor-sharp 75 minutes, the film is as tight as a drum.

Any flaws are relatively minor. The story is very simple and there is no attempt at any kind of depth beyond surface thrills and at one point proceedings resort to that hoariest of horror exposition cliches – the Wall of Newspaper Clippings.

But such quibbles are trying to pick holes in what is a massively enjoyable movie. Co-directors Jaume Balaguero (Darkness, The Nameless) and Paco Plaza (Romasanta) have delivered serviceable but unspectacular work in the past, but [REC] is glorious, visceral entertainment.

After a successful run at various film festivals (including the 2008 New Zealand Film Festival), [REC] received worldwide theatrical runs; except in the USA where it was locked down until its rapidly-greenlit Hollywood remake could be rushed out, Quarantine. It is, however, difficult to see how a remake would improve on the original in this case – [REC] is a lean, mean thrill machine of a movie and undoubtedly one of the horror films of the year.

  • Extended scenes
  • Behind the scenes
  • Casting and rehearsal footage
  • Trailer
  • Image gallery

Available on R4 DVD from Vendetta Films.

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