Though horror has always been one of my favorite genres, 2007’s well-reviewed Spanish chiller [Rec] passed me by, probably because it went straight to DVD in the US. A huge hit in its native land, [Rec] was remade in 2008 for subtitle-shy Anglophones as Quarantine (and no, I haven’t seen that one, either), and has now spawned a second film, the imaginatively titled [Rec] 2. IMDb hints that further sequels loom: it appears a new franchise has been born.
While knowledge of the first film’s plot points is no doubt helpful, [Rec] 2 (opening this Friday at the Shattuck Cinemas) quickly brings newcomers up to speed. There’s an apartment house in Madrid, within which terrible things are happening. The authorities don’t want anyone going inside, and they definitely don’t want anyone coming out, at least not without their approval. The building is, apparently, ground zero for the outbreak of a deadly and previously unknown disease.
A heavily armed SWAT squad is sent inside. Its mission: to rescue the scientist stranded within who can help control the outbreak. The government, however, hasn’t been entirely honest with the police, who learn that the scientist is actually a priest, and the disease is actually a viral outbreak of demonic possession. And unlike your garden-variety demonic possession, this strain is transmitted zombie fashion: one bite or scratch from a possessed soul, and you’re the Devil’s minion.
While [Rec] 2 is an effective and well-made film that will satisfy genre fans, it relies on a few too many gimmicks, including the now familiar conceit that the proceedings are being recorded verite-style on hand-held video cameras (see also: The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead). The ‘Rec’ symbol pops up on screen from time to time, whilse tension mounts as the camera’s battery strength slowly but surely ebbs away in the lower right-hand corner. Oh, no! Will our heroes survive Beelzebub’s blitzkrieg—or will they have to visit Radio Shack and stock up on fresh Double-As?
[Rec] 2’s other problem is also a familiar one: video-game syndrome. The film takes place in an expansive multi-roomed building which could pass for the equivalent labyrinth in every first-person shooter your teenage son has blasted his way through (I’m speaking from experience here). An appropriate atmosphere of claustrophobia and ‘what’s around the corner?’ fear is established, but you can’t help wondering when your characters — sorry, the film’s characters — will pick up some extra ammo or gain another life after completing a mission.
Did I enjoy [Rec] 2? Yes, I did. It’s reasonably well acted (with especial kudos to Jonathan Mellor as Owen, the film’s dog-collared, crucifix-wielding protagonist), and — unlike too many contemporary horror films — takes itself utterly seriously. The shocks are plentiful, well staged, and even occasionally scary. I can’t help but think, however, that [Rec] 2 would have been better if it simply dispensed with the camera gimmick and told its story the old-fashioned way: no batteries required.