[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=that film guy&asin=B003S4G8RY][/pullquote] A TV film crew, while recording a documentary about firefighters, become trapped in an apartment building during a zombie outbreak. Their attempts to find out what’s going on, and hopefully escape, are all shown from the perspective of the videotape.
That is the entire extent of REC‘s story. It’s about as bare-bones as you get, and none of the characters are particularly well-developed, leaving the film quite a lot of work to do to be engaging to the audience. Fortunately, while the premise “ found footage horror and zombies “ initially seems like two dead horses for the price of one, it actually works extremely well.
At a mere 75 minutes long, there’s nothing here that doesn’t need to be, and while it could get to the meat of the action more quickly, it doesn’t waste too much time on developing characters that any remotely savvy viewer will know are all going to die anyway. More importantly, the tension never lets up once they get into the infected apartment building, which over a longer film could become exhausting, but for one that’s barely feature-length, is exactly what it needs to make up for the almost total absence of plot and character.
Ironically, the one attempt to introduce a wrinkle into the plot in the final act, where it’s suggested that the infection’s Patient Zero was actually the victim of demonic possession, only weakens the film and forces the viewer to ask unwanted and unnecessary questions. If they were possessed, why wasn’t an exorcism carried out? And how can demonic possession be spread through people’s saliva? One shouldn’t ask these sorts of questions of a horror film, but REC is better off when it doesn’t bother with plot at all.
All the same, while it doesn’t do anything terribly new or original, it does what it does so well that it’s hard to complain too much. Of course it takes everyone far longer than it should to realise they ought to stay away from the cannibalistic people covered in blood. Of course the lights cut out when it’s dramatically appropriate. And of course, when they turn on the camera’s spotlight, there’s a zombie right in the middle of the frame. There’s even a creepy little girl zombie at one point.
It’s all been done before, but that doesn’t make it less effective here. It’s all about tension and jump scares, but for the most part these are very good jump scares. The sheer rage-filled aggression of the zombies contributes a lot to this, as does the fact that they scream bloody murder when on the attack. The finale in particular, which sees the two protagonists trapped with the Patient Zero in a cramped, pitch-black room, only able to see through the camera’s night vision, is a masterclass in building tension, only made more effective by the fact that the monster is as blind as the protagonists are. Hearing it smashing about the room with a hammer, trying to find them while they desperately try to stay quiet, is genuinely frightening and easily the film’s standout set piece.