This past month has been something of a rollercoaster ride as my three teens and I moved into a new apartment across town. Almost immediately after signing the lease, we’d spend our evenings after work/school packing and lugging our belongings across town to our new place. It’s been twenty years since I’ve last lived in an apartment and I’d forgotten all that entailed; a hodgepodge collection of neighbors, frightening basement laundry room, and fuzzy “call box” that makes visitors sound like they’re taking orders at a drive-thru. About two weeks into the move, the kids were visiting their mother as I continued the arduous process of moving by myself. After my tenth trip up the stairs, I decided to take a breather and sit in my empty, new living room before making another trip. A few moments later, my silence was broken by the sound of another tenant entering the building and heading to their unit across the hall. At this point, I’d never seen any of my new neighbors with the only evidence of their existence a few scattered cars in the lot. For some reason, the sound of one of them moving about on the other side of the wall put me on edge. Who is this person? What are they like? Are they the friendly kind of neighbor you can borrow a cup of sugar from or the ones that call the cops every time your TV gets too loud? Of course, the obvious solution was to simply open my door and introduce myself but I had a different plan. After digging through a couple boxes I pulled out my copy of the 2007 Spanish horror film, REC – a film that’s not only stood the test of time but supports the idea that tenants are better off keeping to themselves! With only a TV and bookcase in the room, I decided to extend my break and watch it again while lying on the floor.
As with 28 Days Later and The Crazies, REC loosely follows the “zombie formula,” though these infected humans are fast moving and far from being undead. Although “Found Footage” films have garnered their fair share of detractors, the style is highly effective here. I should also note that this is one of subgenres earlier entries and before it erupted after the release of Cloverfield a year later. The film is co-written and directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza. Balaguero would later direct another notable Spanish thriller, Sleep Tight (2011), that’s also worth checking out.
The story is centered on a reporter named Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman (and real-life cinematographer), Pablo (Pablo Rosso) who are working on a human interest story on overnight workers. As “reality TV” is at the peak of its popularity, the two are shadowing a team of firefighters and eagerly join them on a seemingly routine call. Residents of a high rise apartment building report one of their fellow tenants screaming which not only brings the firemen but the police as well. Things take a sharp and grisly turn when the screamer severely bites one of the cops. By the time they bring the injured officer downstairs, they discover the building has been quarantined and they’re all trapped inside. Thus setting the stage for a tense and creepy thrill ride that seldom lets up.
I love the claustrophobic atmosphere of this film which, like The Descent, keeps your tense throughout. As with the person holding the camera, the viewer is never sure what’s happening nor what the full story actually is (though supernatural elements are hinted at later in the film). Unlike the usual Hollywood horror fare, I found the “jumps” genuine and from the moment of that aforementioned scene my adrenaline pumping.
An American version of this film (Quarantine starring Jennifer Carpenter) was released a year later. Although nearly a frame-by-frame, carbon copy, I found the Spanish version much more satisfying. However, that’s only if you SEE THE SUBTITLED VERSION ONLY. The dubbed rendition of REC currently offered on Amazon stream and Roku is NOT worth it in my opinion. You can stream, however, stream the superior subtitled version via your Shudder subscription – which is a must-have for horror fans.
The success of REC would spawn a quadrilogy of which I’ve only seen REC 2 (2009). I thought it was decent though inferior to the original. As of this date I’ve not seen REC 3: Genesis (2012) nor Rec 4: Apocalypse (2014). Quarantine would also garner a couple spin-offs which are completely different stories than the Spanish sequels.
Yes, there’s an overabundance of found footage films and the zombie genre has been around the block a million times. That being said, it’s worth going back a bit and seeing this film. If there’s one thing I’ve learned moving back to an apartment, sometimes going backward is the only way to truly go forward.
Oh, crap…is it time to start unpacking again already?