Thursday, October 27, 2011

[Rec] (2007)

Well, I think I just found the highlight of this season's batch of horror titles (that I've decided to watch). I went into [Rec] knowing it's gotten lots of praise, and I expected it to be good, but I came out of it being impressed even beyond my expectations (and that's rare, especially with titles I already expect to be good). If I hadn't long ago given up on the futile practice of rating movies, I would unhesitatingly award it a 10/10 (which I did over on immediately after finishing the movie). In fact, I'm still basking in the afterglow of the experience right now. What can I say in a review? Well, two things. I can tell you what the movie's about, so you can decide if it's worth seeing, and I can tell you what I liked about it in particular, and what made it so good.

[Rec] is, for better or worse (and in this case, it is most certainly for the better), a foreign language (Spanish) found footage film that my good friend The Found Footage Afficionado described to me as Resident Evil the movie - done right. Now, hearing that, don't be discouraged by the poor quality of the Resident Evil films. That's just the point - [Rec] is what Resident Evil should have been as a movie, and it taps into everything that made the game series (specifically, going back to the basics of the original) so good. It's much the same concept as how Jacob's Ladder is what Silent Hill as a movie (adapted conceptually, and not literally) should have been. (Though in that case, Jacob's Ladder came before Silent Hill, and has been officially acknowledged as one of many inspirations for the game). While, as a Silent Hill fan, I think the Silent Hill movie was good, it doesn't quite reach 'masterpiece' status the way the original game did. Jacob's Ladder, on the other hand, is a cinematic masterpiece, and it embodies a similar spirit as Silent Hill the game. The same can be said about [Rec] - that it, generally, embodies the spirit of Resident Evil, but is a cinematic masterpiece of its own, and not just a name brand cash-in like the Resident Evil movies are.

But enough with the comparison to Resident Evil. Like most(?) found footage films, the movie opens with our leads engaged in a rather different pursuit than they'll later be unexpectedly thrown into the middle of. We have a two man (cameraman plus reporter - well, the reporter is an attractive young woman) local TV crew filming an on-site report of what it's like to spend a day (or night, rather) in the shoes of a local fireman. As they conduct interviews and find other ways to pass their time, an emergency call is received, and the crew heads out with the firemen to investigate a domestic complaint at a local apartment building. When they get there, they come face to face with an uncommunicative and violently psychotic old lady who attacks one of the police men on call. Things go from bad to worse when the entire apartment building is quarantined, trapping everyone inside in an effort to contain an unknown and unpredictable infection. Tensions run high, and all attempts to keep things under control eventually fail as the chaos spreads.

Ultimately, any movie can be made to sound good or bad in a synopsis, and what really matters is how the movie approaches its premise, and whether or not it's successful at crafting an effective and exciting cinematic experience. As you no doubt will have guessed by now, my opinion is that [Rec] succeeds at this with flying colors. Rather than sit here and pontificate on why it succeeds, you should really just go and watch it for yourself. But I will say a few things. First, that I actually screamed out at one part in this movie - and that's something that I never do! Also, I think the "zombies" (if they're even technically that) were portrayed rather well, in their mannerisms. They weren't stereotypical shambling corpses - they behaved erratically and unpredictably, and seemed to exhibit symptoms of psychological imbalance - though in other cases, frightening intelligence and even strategy.

I wonder that maybe the reason a film like this succeeds where, say, George Romero's Diary of the Dead (also a found footage take on the theme) fails, is because at this point Romero is too caught up in zombie subculture, and all the predictable tropes that go with it, whereas [Rec] taps into the basic fear of zombism, and the immediacy of that terror, in a fresh way that someone who's been making zombie movies for decades would have a lot of difficulty doing. And one more comment I want to make is that [Rec] provides one of the most original - or at least creatively inspired - explanations for the zombie condition/outbreak that I've ever seen or heard before. It's not space dust from a fallen meteorite, nor is it hell being filled to capacity. Telling you would be a huge super-duper spoiler, but it's so clever, I want to say it anyway. Close your eyes and stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled.

Begin Spoiler (highlight to read)
It's the same 'disease' that causes demonic possession, except that in studying it and trying to find a cure, man has inadvertently made it contagious! Genius, I tell you.
End Spoiler

And by now you know enough to understand why [Rec] is so good, and why you should go watch it if you're a horror fan and haven't seen it yet.

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