(BEWARE: THERE BE SOME SPOILERS HERE!!!)
Now, I’ve stated many times before, in both comments and in the BOPX Horror-podcast, that I’ve grown very weary of the “found footage”-horror. With a few exceptions, though. One of those exceptions was the 2007 movie “[REC]”, by spanish horror directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza. It told the story of an anxious, young news reporter, Angela Vidal(Manuela Velasco), who with her cameraman is tagging along with an Emergency Response unit, as they arrive to an apartment building to answer a call. Pretty soon things start going to hell, as some sort of an “infection” has turned some residents into raving, animal-like lunatics with apparent super-strength and -speed. As the survivors find out, that the building has been sealed by authorities, they are forced to retreat into the top floor of the building and discover that the so-called “infection” is in fact a form of demonic possession, originating from Tristana Merdeiros, a possessed girl, who has been held captive by a priest who has been sanctioned by the church to conduct scientific experiments in order to come up with an antidote to possession. Well, jeez — how could that possibly go wrong?
I saw [REC] pretty soon, as it arrived on DVD and was just absolutely blown away by it. It was technically wonderful, using the “found footage” from the cameraman’s camera in an effective manner, really doing long, sometimes even impossible scenes(with the aid of some fine digital effects and clever editing), and it had an atmosphere of continually building terror. And just impeccable cast. And it also put a nice new spin into the Zombie genre, with kinda mixing it up with the possession-genre. It was actually such a clever film, that there was no surprise an american remake soon followed. “Quarantine” came out a year later, using the same type of location, similar shots, but for some reason they nixed the “demonic possession”-idea and used a “mutated rabies” instead. What the actual fuck? You take an original idea, you carbon copy it, and leave out the part that made the idea original in the first place. At least they had a good lead actress in Jennifer Carpenter, so that’ll serve one star to that picture. Apparently there’s a “Quarantine 2”, as well. Not that I’d care. And neither do Balaguero and Plaza, who have stated their indifference towards the americanized versions.
But anyways, as a “Night Terrors”-task, I decided to watch the three sequels to the original film back-to-back, finishing the [REC]-saga after long last. Here we go:
Directed by: Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza
One needs not to think long about the influences of the filmmakers for [REC]2. After watching a joking, overly-confident strike team, with individual helmet-cameras, enter a seemingly abandoned structure – with an untrustworthy “company man” – and be completely devastated by surprise attacks, sometimes having to crawl through ventilation shafts and whatnot…. If James Cameron’s “Aliens” was not in heavy rotation in the directors’ homes as they were kids, I don’t know what to say. The first half of the film plays really like a mini-version of “Aliens” – set inside a slightly derelict, claustrophobic apartment building.
I think the biggest problem with this film is the lack of a clear leading character – the first movie had Angela, and when she appears in the beginning of the third act here, she is still it. The strike team is pretty much a bunch of Redshirts, to be picked off one by one. The “Medical Chief”, who is pretty soon exposed to actually be a priest, sent by the church, is too much of an ignorant douchebag to be the lead. And the group of teens as well; they are basically just annoying(which is realism, I guess), and they are very quickly kinda pushed to the side and forgotten(to the amount that they are totally forgotten by the start of the fourth film, actually creating a pretty sizeable plot-hole).
Visually this thing is stunning though. In the first part the directors proved that they have a real knack at claustrophobic, intense terror, and they are seriously upping the ante here; a sequence where one team-member is crawling through air ducts to find a test tube of blood, and retreating while a group of infected children are crawling towards him, is a masterclass of suspense. Also, the use of the helmet cameras is done very cleverly. And the editing is razor sharp. But the bottom line is, a little more character development could’ve been had.
[REC]3 – Genesis(2012)
Directed by: Paco Plaza
So – part 3 takes some completely new approaches to the story. First off, it moves the action away from the storyline of the first two films, with only one tiny glimpse of news footage shown on a television at the background; effectively informing us that the events of the previous films are in fact happening right at the same time. The second – pretty major – step it takes is, that at the end of the first act, it abandons the “found footage”-genre and in one swift kick to a camera, switches the viewpoint into a normal motion picture(with actually changing the aspect ratio from a 1:85:1 into a 2:35:1), and adding a music score into the background. This was very cleverly done, as almost a wink to the audience.
And that’s another thing about part 3 – it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a very dark, humorous(could one say, european?) undertone to the whole film. I mean, you can’t help but laugh, as our hero, Koldo, and another guest put on some armor – from the Crusades – before they enter the mansion to look for his bride. It’s a funny image. Another hilarious moment is kinda spoiled in the poster, as the bride picks up a chainsaw, cuts her dress so she can move easier, and just let’s it rip on some infected guests, screaming: “this is my day!!!, this is MY DAY!!!!”. A slight humorous jab towards all those asshole relatives that you’re kinda forced to invite to a wedding? Perhaps. Most likely.
Paco Plaza directed this film solo, as Balaguero directed another film of his own at the same time, while also developing the fourth part, and Plaza clearly shows HIS influences here: there are pretty clear echoes/nods towards films like Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” and Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2” here. Also, the main characters are really fleshed out(pun intended) here; we actually CARE about Koldo and Clara – we WANT them to find each other. That humanization was a bit missed in the previous film. All in all, an enjoyable “side-quel”, showing us that the events in the building of parts 1-2 are not an isolated incident – there’s a bigger picture here.
[REC]4 – Apocalypse(2014)
Directed by: Jaume Balaguero
So – the Big Finish. The chain of events that started with Angela and her poor cameraman following an emergency rescue unit into that damned building in part 1 come to a close. [REC]4 ditches the “found footage”-idea completely, if you don’t count out the ship’s surveillance camera footage that’s glimpsed occasionally. Now, if part 2 was heavily influenced by “Aliens”, this film has another pretty clear influence. Angela wakes up in a medical room, with a slight case of memory loss, we have a multileveled, claustrophobic setting, heavily monitored, filled with soldiers, scientists, the infected and also some mutated laboratory animals running loose; if that doesn’t spell “Resident Evil”, I don’t know what will. All that was missing was an “Umbrella Corporation”-logo somewhere.
Majority of the film was actually shot on a real ship, anchored in Gran Canaria, during four weeks. And actually that makes a hell of a lot of difference, instead of shooting at a soundstage. You see, real ship corridors are narrow, tight places with low ceilings, all sorts of pipes, low doors – basically all kinds of shit that you can seriously injure yourself if you hit it. So in movies, the corridors are usually scaled up, when built. None of that here. As the building in the first two films, the ship is a maze-like, claustrophobic hell hole, and when you fill that with raving groups of the infected, you get some sheer terror. And panic. And Balaguero films it with the finesse of a seasoned horror filmmaker.
The character of Angela is again the lead(and as was seen in the end of part 2, she’s also a bit of a red herring at first). Now there’s also a somewhat main villain, in the form of Doctor Ricarte(Hector Colome), the lead scientist. Although he just believes he’s doing the right thing, by any means necessary – but isn’t that always the case with the really great villains? The IT-person of the ship, Nick(Ismael Fritschi), who is trying to restore all the footage that was shot in the first two films, is also a likable character – and an unlikely hero of the piece. [REC]4 moves the action to a wider world, while still keeping things claustrophobic. It’s an efficient wrap-up to the saga, although the filmmakers(the conniving bastards, lol) do leave things a little bit ambiguous. But Angela’s story, at least, looks now to be finished.