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Turn Off The Camera

October 4th, 2010 · No Comments

As days get shorter, nights get longer and All Hallow’s Eve beckons, I can say that I won’t be wandering the streets dressed as Chewbacca begging for candy. What I can’t say is whether or not at my age, horror movies still have any surprises left in them. In the search for originality, it’d be a good idea to start anywhere but Hollywood. For the month of October, I take a trip around the globe to see what’s scaring some of my favorite countries these days.

[Rec] (2007)
Directed by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Written by Jaume Balagueró, Luis Berdejo, Paco Plaza
Produced by Julio Fernández
78 minutes

In terms of thrills, [Rec] offers everything in the carnival except corndogs. The film was willed into existence out of a conversation between directors Jaume Balagueró (Darkness) and Paco Plaza (Second Name) over horror films, what they considered scary about them and what they didn’t. Agreeing that credibility seemed to be key, they came up with the idea of co-directing a first person, single camera thriller in the style of a TV news report. Sketching a scenario with Luis Berdejo, the project attracted Julio Fernandez, chairman of Barcelona based Filmax Entertainment, which put up a budget of roughly €1.5 million ($1.9 million USD). Casting unknowns and using director of photography Pablo Rosso to “play” the cameraman in the film, Balagueró & Plaza shot [Rec] chronologically, without giving their actors dialogue to recite or scripted events to anticipate.

Released November 2007 in Spain, [Rec] was a box office hit in its native land. It’s launched a 2009 sequel [Rec] 2, as well as a U.S. remake starring Jennifer Carpenter titled Quarantine (2008) which neither Balagueró or Plaza had a hand in. The Spanish language original is like an episode of Cops, if patrol officers and a camera crew were dispatched to an outbreak of living dead. Anyone adverse to shakycam or zombies might tire of the conceit quickly, but like a funhouse that someone put real ingenuity into, [Rec] is an enjoyable brand of cheap, with an intense beginning, no middle and terrifying ending that takes advantage of its medium well. Even at 78 minutes, there doesn’t seem to be anything that could have been added to reach a feature length running time, which says a lot about the limitations of this style, but also the dedication the filmmakers show to it.

News correspondent Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her unseen cameraman Pablo are escorted through a fire station on a segment for the TV show While You’re Sleeping. Embedded with rescue workers Alex (David Virt) and Manu (Ferran Terraza), a call comes in for a person trapped in an apartment. Entering the lobby, the rescuers confront bewildered tenants who report they heard an old woman screaming. Joining a veteran police officer (Vicente Gil) and his nervous young partner (Jorge-Yamam Serrano), they find the old woman semi-naked, bloody and disoriented. The older cop is attacked and bitten in the neck. Carrying the officer downstairs, the rescuers and tenants find that the building has apparently been sealed off by authorities and put under some type of quarantine.

Hell breaks loose. Alex plummets into the lobby with a bite mark on his cheek. A medical intern (Carlos Vicente) cares for the two victims. A hysterical mother (Maria Lanua) cares for a 4-year-old daughter suffering from tonsillitis. Authorities refuse to let anyone leave the building until a health inspector can check them for biological or nuclear contamination. Angela and Pablo continue to film as the two victims exhibit the same mindless aggression of the old woman and attack. The health inspector (Ben Temple) reveals that a dog treated by a veterinarian for these same symptoms was traced back to the building. The virus seems to spread through saliva. With more people being bit and transformed into freaked out killers, Angela and Pablo keep filming long enough to discover the truth behind what’s happening.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 30,079 users: 77% for [Rec]

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

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Tags: 24 hour time frame · Ambiguous ending · Beasts and monsters · End of the world · Forensic evidence · Interrogation · No opening credits · Paranoia · Supernatural · Woman in jeopardy

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