Wednesday, September 24, 2008

[.REC] (2007)

When it comes to horror films, I've always been a big fan of the "found footage" subgenre. Whether it be Cannibal Holocaust or Cloverfield, there is something inherently sinister about a piece of work that is fundamentally fictional, yet by viewing events in the actual first person instead of the omnipotent first person found in conventional cinema, our wilful suspension of disbelief is immediately challenged.

If we're eyewitnesses, then the terrible events unfolding right before our eyes must be true, correct?

The "found footage" film gives us a snapshot in time. It casts aside conventional cinematic mechanics such as character development because we're dropped in the middle of real people living real life. Do we honestly need life stories, detailed expositions, or flowery soliloquies to help us find spritual linkages with our fellow man? Isn't the merest measure of human compassion enough?

The individuals around us are not cardboard cutouts nor are they metaphors.

They are wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, friends, family.. everyone..

And then all at once, something indescribably brutal happens to them..

And maybe, just maybe..

We are next..

In [.REC], we're transported to a fire station located somewhere in Barcelona, Spain. In no time flat, we meet perky and pixie cute telejournalist, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), and her trusty cameraman, Pablo (co-director, Paco Plaza). We never get to see Pablo's face but his role is arguably the most important one in the film as Pablo serves as the eyes and ears of the audience.

Ángela is the anchorperson for a serio-documentary series entitled "While You Slept": a television program focusing on the various social services that keep things running while we're all in bed.

Immediately we can tell that poor Ángela is frustrated not only with this particular assignment, but perhaps with her job in general. Being the hostess for a humdrum public affairs program that no one is awake to watch doesn't exactly put you on the fast track to fame and fortune. Professional to a fault, Ángela does her best to spice her report up but nothing seems to work. There are limits to the amount of excitement you can add to a story if absolutely nothing is going on.

As fate would have it, the fire station receives a call and the team Ángela is assigned to follow heads off to respond to a medical emergency at a small apartment building.

Apparently the tenants there are concerned about an elderly woman that suddenly erupted into a fit of screaming and then fell ominously silent. As the investigation progresses, the tension mounts towards a fever pitch and once the dying starts, the safety catch and all bets are officially off.

There is something both courageous and wicked in the way that Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza generate scares.

Unlike the continuous dropping of the f-bomb and hysterical shrieking that passed for plot progression during the lengthy downtime segments of The Blair Witch Project, [.REC] gives up just enough information to answer some of the questions in your head and generate other questions.

However, before you have time to process this information you're once again on the edge of your seat at the mercy of the durability of Pablo's camera.

If Pablo can't see, then neither can you.

Terrible still is the overwhelming, "George Romero zombie virus"-inspired notion that no one is safe. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) is either potential victim or a potential monster.

At a shade over ninety minutes, the narrative and the action in [.REC] are kept so tight that they threaten to lash out; not totally unlike the creatures lurking in the shadows.

However, the pacing of [.REC] is also somewhat problematic. Balagueró and Plaza blatantly shotgun a couple of plot holes and a highly puzzling, genre-busting story development right by you and they know that because of the nature of the "found footage" subgenre, you're forced to accept whatever you're offered as undeniable fact.

After all, the camera doesn't lie, does it?

[.REC] is without a doubt the most frightening film I've seen since The Descent and like The Descent, I can easily overlook a minor flaw or two in celebration of what this movie represents. Someone somewhere still loves the horror genre enough to continue to crank out quality fright fests, and I will eternally be a happy camper as long as the scares keep on coming.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Hollywood has already gotten their hooks into this. On October the tenth, Screen Gems will release the Jennifer Carpenter vehicle, Quarantine, which I've gathered is a near shot-for-shot remake of [.REC].

One suspects that the overproduced Tinseltown translation probably won't generate the gut-level reactions that [.REC] does, but secretly I hope that Quarantine is successful if only to kill the perpetuation of the sin that is the complete lack of a DVD or theatrical release of [.REC] here in North America.

[.REC] deserves a bigger audience and wider acclaim. If Quarantine is a necessary step to achieve that goal, then so be it.

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