Given the huge success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999, it's strange that's it's taken almost ten years for horror filmmakers to jump on the shaky-cam bandwagon. In January this year we had the awesome Cloverfield
, a monster movie documented on camcorder by various Abercrombie & Fitch models, and in March we've got Diary Of The Dead, George Romero's latest zombie apocalypse viewed via viewfinder. Sneaking in the back door is Spanish horror [Rec], yet another handheld horror set to have motion sickness-suffering pussies spewing in the aisles.
[Rec]'s set-up is dead simple. Perky TV anchor Ángela (Velasco) and her unseen cameraman Pablo (Sais) are following a Barcelona fire crew for a night as part of their show, called "While You Were Sleeping". While larking about at the station, the crew receive an emergency call about an old lady trapped in her apartment, so suit up and set off to save the day with reporter and lenser in tow. When they arrive, they discover the blood-soaked old lady has gone feral, and when she attacks one of the officers on the scene, all hell breaks loose. Attempting an exit, the fire fighters (and the residents of the apartment complex) discover they've been sealed in, presumably to keep the aforementioned virus from hitting Las Ramblas.
Cloverfield, for all its flaws, was attempting to take a new angle on a tried and tested formula. [Rec], sadly, uses the handheld device as more of a gimmick than anything else. There's no indication as to what the footage you're seeing is exactly - it certainly doesn't present itself as 'found footage' as there are shots that have been clearly edited, plus there's occasions where the cameraman actually rewinds the footage in real-time to show his partner a vital scene, so it kinda feels like it's supposed to be happening 'live'. It's a little inconsistent in that respect - the final scene even has subtle atmospheric sound effects, further betraying the idea that what you're seeing is for real. To be honest, it'd work just as well shot as a regular movie - the shaky-cam is a little too much to process when you've got subtitles to read as well. Your eyes may very well throw up into your head.
Even though the POV shooting style is a bit hokey, the scares are pretty fantastic throughout. There's a sprinkling of out-and-out gore (the opening feral assault has an awesome neck-bite - the kind that will elicit a sharp intake of breath from any audience) but otherwise, it's all in the anticipation. There are lots of scenes that play out in shadows and stony silence with a good long lead-in, giving you plenty of time to prepare yourself and squeeze the hand of a loved one (or grip an armrest if you're single) - you know you're being led down the garden path to a great big telegraphed "BOO!" scare, but it makes little difference. You at least get the feeling the filmmakers are aware they're messing with you a little bit - it's following convention but doing it in style.
You don't see a lot of the zombies due to the jolting camerawork and the lack of real lighting, but when seen up close they're depressingly familiar - all pale skin, red eyes and bloody chins a la the Infected from 28 Days/Weeks Later. There is a little variety in there for the connoisseur - you've got your requisite creepy little girl, your straggly haired old biddy and your big last act baddie, a truly creepy lookin' abomination - but otherwise these are vanilla flesh-eaters. Thankfully, you mostly only see flashes of them in the maelstrom of blurry camera activity, and the top-notch sound effects do the rest of the work. Kudos too, to the directors - there are some great shots picked out from the carnage, including one outstanding stairwell shot, a definite 'Oh fuck' moment if ever there was one.
It's an odd one to call, really - [Rec] is not original by any means and the handheld POV is starting to wear a little thin already, but it's quick and to the point when it comes to delivering scares. It's almost derailed by an astonishingly pointless last reel twist, but just about gets by on sheer bloody-mindedness alone. I'd liken it to playing Resident Evil a second time through: you know when the dog is going to jump through the window but it still scares the shit out of you nonetheless.