Many people have tried to emulate the cinéma-vérité/home movie trick of The Blair Witch Project… but few of them have succeeded. This year, though, we’ve already seen a similar style employed to good effect in Cloverfield and now there’s [REC] – sure to be up there with The Orphanage as one of 2008’s scariest.
The set-up is beautifully conceived and simple. A film crew — bubbly blonde reporter Ángela (Manuela Velasco) and unseen, behind-the-lens cameraman Pablo — are following a late-night fire crew around for a TV show. When a call comes in about an old lady trapped inside a Barcelona apartment, firemen Manu (Ferran Terraza) and Álex (David Vert) respond to the emergency, with Angela and Pablo tagging along to film proceedings. What they find are coppers already assembled at the scene, the building’s other residents gathered in the lobby, and the woman, herself, rabid and covered in blood. When she takes a bite out of one rozzer’s neck, all hell breaks loose and the place is soon quarantined, trapping both living and dead inside, with no way out. And that’s it.
While Blair Witch relied on the power of suggestion for its scares, [REC] serves up horror that’s frenzied and hardcore. Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza show everything through the filter of Pablo’s camera, plunging the audience directly into the chaos. It’s immediate and effective and even Cloverfield’s minor “Why is he still filming?” flaw is overcome by the fact that Pablo’s a professional – of course he keeps shooting. Still, he’s only human and as the terror increases so the camera becomes increasingly shaky and the images served up are harder to focus on. Then the power goes out in the building, blacking the frame and leaving the camera spotlight as the only illumination. Then that fades, night-vision mode clicks in and things get really creepy...
Balagueró and Plaza know better than to inject anything beyond a hint of character, preferring to amp up the terror, tension and claustrophobia, with regular explosions of viscera and violence. More of a rollercoaster white-knuckle ride a than movie, at barely 80 minutes [REC] is too frantic to overstay its welcome. You will leave the cinema shaken and scared... Meanwhile, the Hollywood remake is already in the can.
Gripping, unsettling and truly horrific, [REC] is much more than the gimmick suggested by its title. Prepare to squirm, wince and wonder at how a potential Blair Witch knock-off is quite so grimy and engrossing. And don't eat dinner before you see it.