Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #102
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 23, 2007
Sub-Genre: Zombie Horror
Country of Origin: Spain
Box Office: $32,492,948
Running Time: 78 minutes
Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Producer: Julio Fernández
Screenplay: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, Luis A Berdejo
Special Effects: David Ambit, Enric Masip
Visual Effects: Àlex Villagrasa
Cinematography: Pablo Rosso
Editing: David Gallart
Studios: Castelao Producciones, Filmax, Televisión Española
Distributors: Filmax International (Spain), Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA)
Stars: Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert, Vicente Gil, Martha Carbonell, Carlos Vicente, María Teresa Ortega, Manuel Bronchud, Akemi Goto, Chen Min Kao, Maria Lanau, Claudia Silva, Javier Botet, Ben Temple, Carlos Lasarte
Suggested Audio Candy
Carlos Ann “Vudu”
Viva España. Not the most prolific nation for horror perhaps, more sleeping giant. The Spaniards are a population of manifold Matador and their bullied bullocks (who quite rightly turn the tables on their tormentors with often devastating effect), a nation desensitized to grue and fiercely proud of their heritage. Their output with regards to horror is reasonably slight but there have been peaks amongst the valleys and Bigas Luna’s Anguish and Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie are two that spring instantly to mind. However, while the French have been enjoying something of a recent resurgence, their next door neighbors have also been making their mark on horror and Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza appear to be at the very heart of this revolution.
[REC] places us in the espadrilles of Barcelona-based TV reporter Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco), and her cameraman Pablo, as they cover the graveyard shift in a fire station while shooting their documentary series While You’re Sleeping. When a call comes in about an old woman trapped in her apartment complex, Ángela and Pablo decide to tag along with firefighters Álex (David Vert) and Manu (Ferrán Terraza) and head off to grab themselves an exclusive. However, on arrival, they are greeted in a manner most inhospitable as Mrs. Izquierdo is looking decidedly the worse for wear. Moreover, the entire construct appears to have been compromised by infection and the authorities are very much aware of the outbreak. With the building now sealed off and securely quarantined, things are looking decidedly grim for Ángela and Pablo and about to get one helluva lot worse as the unknown sickness continues to spread through its residents.
[REC] has a distinct advantage when setting out to terrify audiences as a cast of complete unknowns adorn our screens with a point-of-view approach taken from one never-visible onlooker. There is more than an air of realism to proceedings and it remains contained within its insular urban institution for nigh-on all of its duration. Even those customarily averse to foreign language films are granted access as the visual narrative is strong enough to override any ultimately fruitless verbal exchanges throughout. I consider subtitled movies akin to slow roasting a turkey as you have to take your sweet time to get the most flavor from them. On primary view of works such as this, we are automatically faced with an obstacle; with eyes torn between what we read at the screen’s basement and the merry hell occurring around it. That said, while we invariably require secondary exposure to feel the full fragrance of a foreign language film’s heady scent, Balagueró and Plaza’s ensure that it couldn’t matter less.
[REC] is like a rat out the trap and, once sealed into our spiraling complex, there is only ever one way to go and that is up. It respectfully draws inspiration from David Cronenberg’s macabre 1976 masterpiece Shivers, through setting and ominous tone if not perversion. Meanwhile, the simplicity in its premise allows it to focus on the escalating panic of its occupants and that’s the same in any language.
Like Diablo, every floor traversed supplies a fresh set of challenges for our imprisoned unfortunates, while Balagueró and Plaza take maximum advantage afforded them through their shutdown locale. The cast cope comfortably with conveying their consternation, dropping like flies (quite literally in some cases) and Velasco is simply excellent as our harried anchor and reluctant heroine Ángela. Then when it appears that their circumstances can get no more precarious, they take us to a whole new altitude.
The final five minutes of [REC] had me flat-out beside myself as a movie which had been, to that point, more about endurance than perplexing imagery provokes the best kind of response, a twinge in the bowel accompanied by falsetto parp of finely distributed methane speckled with feces. The reveal of the grotesque “Queen Bee” at the summit had my stomach grinding like an E-head’s jaw and there is nothing erotic about the deflated fun bags hanging from this vile creature’s chest like dachshund’s ears. Indeed, I’m fairly assured that the hammer she is flailing round was ever intended for putting up shelves. Truly, madly, deeply, horrifying.
The Americans were swift to capitalize on the Spaniards’ commercial and critical success but, while far from a failed exercise, John Erick Dowdle’s Quarantine came unstuck before it even got off the starting blocks by casting Jay Hernandez as one of the firefighters. That is not to suggest that I am impervious to Hernandez’s performance skills, but he was simply a little too well-known after his turn in Eli Roth’s Hostel, too conspicuous a choice to keep us buying into its authenticity. That said, I say that having never even viewed Dowdle’s retelling, but within that frank admission lies a message in itself. If indeed you bought into its American cousin without having the exclusive pleasure of taking the forebear’s spiraling stairwell of terror then fret not as I’m sure it still slackened your bowel considerably. But for anyone fresh to the concept there can only be one selection.
The [REC] series has gone on to become something of a force to be reckoned with, spawning three sequels, none of which bring any shame to the game. Granted, each adopts a different approach from the last, and purists have struggled with the steady transition from tense survival horror to crowd-pleasing schlock fest, but none of them have been culpable of fumbling the baton in my opinion. However, the original had the distinct advantage of anonymity and few films have managed to worm themselves under my epidermis quite so effortlessly and remain there for days afterwards. As a self-confessed horror nut, I live for the moment when introduced to my worst nightmare with all available exits sealed and that is precisely what the Spaniards achieve here in no uncertain terms. Now, about those shelves.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The contagion spreads in no time and there’s plenty of gruesome moments to sink your incisors into, but it’s all observed fleetingly. The camera never once lingers (with pretty damned good reason I might add), and we’re forced to pick up the pace or else be introduced to hammer time. Speaking of which, ordinarily a dash of shoe-horned nudity is a positive but, having spent a few fretful moments in the presence of a pair of deflated bosoms of which no wonderbra in the world can fashion cleavage from, I’m feeling strangely unfrisky.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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