I've been covering quite a few French horror flicks lately, but France is not the only European country delivering quality horror. Spain has been doing the same for a little while longer, and though Spanish films are usually somewhat cleaner and more relax, from time to time they shine just as bright as their French counterparts. Enter [REC].
The current hype around [REC] has much to do with the way it was filmed. [REC] is another one of those films following the formula of Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project. But along with the hype came a legion of naysayers, arguing the film lacked originality because of this. Well, I have news for those people. It's still a lot more original than 99% of the horror classics are and were.
The directors made only one mistake. [REC] follows the principle of the "found tape", which contradicts at many points with the actual footage. It's pretty obvious that many shots were not made by a dedicated camera man running for his life. Apart from that, the hectic on-site footage works wonders. It's considered a simple trick by many, to me it's simply a new visual means of expression, that has already earned its place next to regular filming methods. Let us hope that once this "trick" has settled in, the films will be valued at their actual merits.
The intro of the film is pretty short, from there on [REC] places you right in the middle of the action. The camera swoops in all directions, so whenever it gets tense you experience similar emotions to the people on screen. You gaze at the screen to get glimpses of the action, and when the camera remains still for a few seconds, you are just as disoriented and looking for possible danger as the characters. Exactly what makes this technique so valuable for the horror genre. It adds a whole new dimension which was completely lacking in years and decades before.
The soundtrack is another marvel of manipulation. Even though the directors didn't use any actual music, they tweaked the soundtrack to such an extent that it still holds a lot of tension. Lifted samples, muffled squeaks and low hums make sure the audience is never at ease, even when these sounds can hardly be contributed to the surroundings. Smart work. Add to that the constant screaming of the characters (talk about Spanish fury!) and you have a film that attacks both visual and auditive senses as much as it can.
For the bigger part of the film, the audience is left clueless of what is going on, which only adds to the tension. Only near the end, things are explained in short (and without too much detail). And even though I'm not a big fan of these kind of explanations in horror films (they often waste valuable horror time), it does leave the film with some nail biting scenes where the heroes are uncovering the thruth amidst a house full of mass hysteria.
Finally, the scares in [REC] are also extremely well-executed. Even though they are easy to predict, they remain ultimately effective. Only in the middle part of the film does the tension ease a bit, but from there on it's one wild ride to the finale which is worth every penny of a visit to the theatre.
[REC] is a lovely thrill that smartly uses modern techniques to its best advantage, creating a truly creepy and tense atmosphere where so many films have failed before. To top that, it's also one great adrenaline rush, made up of chaotic visuals and a screaming soundtrack. One of the best films I've seen in theatres for quite a while, and definitely one of the best horror films ever.
Have a look at the teaser and be sure to watch the original, as the American remake is already in the making.