(On Cable TV, September 2015) Oh well; like all horror series, the [REC] sequence has now reached a terminal point of no return. [REC] 2 was uneven, [REC] 3 was barely redeemed by its last ten minutes, but [REC] 4 is just… dull. The film picks up moments after the second film (while featuring a bit player from the third one) but quickly locks itself up in a cargo ship where no one, heroes, zombies or viewers, can run away. The result is surprisingly dull, with rote zombie scare and mediocre slug-parasite suspense. Manuela Velasco isn’t too bad as the battered chipmunk-faced heroine of the series (she’s the centerpiece of the film’s best sequence, an attempted vivisection that plays with our sympathies at a moment when her true nature isn’t obvious.) but returning director Jaume Balagueró compounds [REC] 4’s problems with a camera style that combines not only herky-jerky handheld camera (without the excuse of found-footage), but incomprehensible rapid-fire editing as well, making a dark mush of the film’s action sequences. There isn’t much here that hasn’t been seen before, and the closed-off nature of the setting doesn’t bring much to the result. As a result, [REC] 4 is –unfortunately- a bit of a chore to get through. Rumors have it that this is meant to be the last installment in the series, which seems appropriate given its downhill trend. On the other hand, it does leave with an underwhelming conclusion…
(On Cable TV, March 2013) The original Rec was a small horror gem straight from Spain; follow-up Rec 2 was a flawed but intriguing expansion of the original. This Rec 3, unfortunately, is a very thin retread of a familiar idea with little material to fill even its short running time. Taking place at a lavish wedding, Rec 3 first flirts with the idea of keeping the subjective-camera experience of its predecessors before ditching the idea out of practical concerns. This leads to a lengthy introductory sequence that builds to… nothing much, as the clearly-identifiable menace of the first few minutes is instantly nullified by a swarm of jumping zombies. (You’ll understand when you’ll see it. Probably even laugh at the absurdity of it.) The Catholic mythology that was so weak in the second film is layered on even more thickly here, and yet Rec 3 doesn’t do anything particularly new with the ideas of the series so far (it may actually back-track on some things), making it an oddly generic take on the material. Still, there is about ten minutes’ worth of really good drama toward the end of the film, as the groom-and-bride have to measure their romantic relationship against a zombie infection: Once the bride (Leticia Dolera, better as the film goes on) takes a chainsaw in her own hands, the fan-service of the strong imagery becomes enjoyable and the thematic subtext of doomed love finally has something original to say. Sadly, this late burst of energy doesn’t last long: Rec 3 soon ends on the usual nihilistic tone of zombie films, and ten minutes’ worth of good material can’t really sustain even a short 80-minutes total running time.
(On DVD, March 2012) The original Rec didn’t really need a sequel, but Rec 2 does an interesting job at trying to take the story somewhere unexpected. Crucially, the claustrophobic found-footage format of the first film is re-created with a few refinements, including three different camera systems. Much of the story also takes place in the same apartment building, albeit digging deeper in the penthouse-of-horrors where the first film ended. From a cinematographic standpoint, Rec 2 works well in-between the sense of dread, carefully orchestrated direction, occasional moments of shock and gore, and a few innovations in trying to reinvigorate the found-footage premise. Story wise, unfortunately, Rec 2 often meanders and confuses itself needlessly. Perhaps the more controversial decision is to shift the mythology of the zombie outbreak into Catholic religious terms –you can almost hear horror fans sputter “Zombies are all right, but just I can’t believe in demonic possession!” Not that Rec 2 actually sticks to strict exorcism: By the time the movie ends, there are so many loose threads (monsters on the ceiling, flaming blood, visual trickery, body-snatching slugs) that just about any explanation is a good as others. Other elements defy rational explanations, such as inconsistent motivations (even from the monsters) and a weaker second act that sucks some energy out of the picture. Fortunately, the film is so slickly-made that wobbly story premises don’t hurt it as much as you’d think: Jonathan Mellor turns in a good performance as a mysterious man with the answers, whereas the real star of the film are the two directors (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, who also wrote and directed the first film) taking care of the mayhem. Not a bad result, especially for an entirely optional sequel.
(On DVD, December 2009) Now that Rec has been remade for American audience as Quarantine, you may think that there’s little reason to seek out a small-budget foreign horror film. But there’s a reason why Rec was chosen for remaking, and the original film remains a strikingly effective piece of horror cinema. Another first-person camera chiller, Rec proceeds from the elegant premise of a TV camera crew following firemen for a slice-in-the-life fluff program and then getting trapped in a building as increasingly disturbing events occur. As this meticulously-paced film advances, we come to realize that the situation has escalated all the way up to a claustrophobic zombie thriller… and it just keeps getting worse. Manuela Velasco is magnificent as a ditzy reporter stuck in an impossible situation, but it’s really co-directors/writers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza who deserve the credit for a slick horror film that knows exactly what it’s doing: the bright clean cinematography is gradually stripped away, and the conceit of the filming camera is handled with a great deal of cleverness. There are shocks, there is a growing sense of dread and the terrific final images are strong enough that they were co-opted for the entire American remake’s marketing strategy. It’s nothing short of a perfect treat for the horror fan, even those tired of the current zombie craze. If you can manage it, try to see Rec just before Quarantine for an instructive comparative lesson in how a lot more money thrown at a premise doesn’t necessarily result in a markedly better product. The Canadian DVD contains the film in Spanish, French and English, but few other extras.