News of the Dead (bonus entry)

[REC] (d. Jaume Balagueró; Paco Plaza, 2007)

After watching Trollhunter, I was suddenly reminded of other found footage movies. And it led me to rewatch one of my favorite foreign-language horror movies ever – [REC]. While there is a competently made nearly shot-by-shot American remake called Quarantine that isn’t half bad, there is really just something about the original that makes it infinitely superior.

[REC]’s premise is really simple. A reporter and her cameraman go on an ordinary late-night news hunt that leads them on patrol with the fire department to an apartment building where an old woman needs assistance. But what initially seems like a routine night out for the two turns into a nightmare as the building is quarantined and something is clearly not right with the tenants.

After watching it, it’s very easy to say that [REC] is pretty much a zombie movie filmed with a found footage lens. What makes the movie unique from other zombie and found footage films, however, is that the movie is fast-paced and intense. Plenty of found footage horror movies rely on the slow burn, and the subtle reliance of the audience’s attention to pick up on the smallest creepy details. [REC] throws this approach out the window as the film’s intense camerawork is matched by the tense zombie encounters.

What really makes [REC]’s zombies scary, however, is that they are used in an almost subtle yet Dawn of the Dead-esque manner. What this means is that while the film’s zombies are fast and aggressive, they are utilized well to the point that whenever a zombie encounter does happen, it’s never not terrifying or intense.

Additionally, the film does an excellent job with the opening exposition and atmosphere. The film seems to open on a deliberately slow manner, almost to lull you in to the routine-ness of the newscast crew. What this ends up doing is that the second the characters reach the building, the film just thrusts you inside an intense and terrifying ride and never really lets go. Additionally, as the characters panic, the subtle background noises of helicopters, alarms, and loud noises help add to the paranoia and claustrophobia that the film’s characters experience, and vicariously, the audience.

There is always something happening in the film to the point that it is not the found footage camerawork that makes one feel uneasy, it’s the film’s events. The chaos works very well for [REC], and this is actually where the film struggles a bit. The film is so hell-bent on thrilling and scaring, that the characters suffer. With the exception of the main character Angela (portrayed excellently by Manuela Velasco), everyone else in the film feels like they are two-dimensional and undercooked characters, only there to exist to become typical horror movie fodder. In addition, the film’s final act ends up feeling even more rushed and half-baked due to the intense manner of the film, and ends up scratching some heads in a manner that is probably unintended by the film.

Still, when the film is an exhaustingly tense and scary 78 minutes, it is hard to complain. [REC]’s purpose is to terrify and entertain, and it is a purpose that it performed well in spades. [REC] is one of my favorite horror movies ever, and if there is ever a found footage film that merits essential viewing, this is it.

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