Nearly a decade on, the impact of The Blair Witch Project continues apace with the P.O.V./mockumentary format for horror films especially popular as a cinematic device at the moment, with the likes of Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and now this Spanish flick. But, just as was proved with Blair Witch, a smaller tighter film can make an even bigger splash than its blockbuster brothers, and it is testament to [●REC]‘s brilliance that it manages to trump similarly gimmicked pictures of a higher profile and/or from respected masters of their craft. And mark my words, it is one of the best horror films of the decade.
The set-up is simple: local TV presenter Angela (Manuela Valesco) and cameraman Pablo follow a crew of firemen on their night shift. But when they are called to an apartment building, it rapidly becomes clear that this is not an ordinary call-out. Soon, the whole building is sealed off and quarantined, the residents start to panic, the terror builds and builds, and the camera keeps rolling. And therein lies the key aspect to the film’s success, in that directors Juame Balagueró and Paco Plaza utilise every trick at their disposal that the fourth-wall breaking camera perspective offers: characters react differently to the intrusion of being filmed, the sound and lighting are crucial mechanics in building atmosphere and tension, and with the one lens the only view available to the audience, we are forced to see what our cameraman sees and venture where he goes, whether we want to or not.
Being as self-contained as it is, the film accomplishes everything it sets out to achieve in its lean running time, with an entertaining opening establishing the nature of the original TV programme and a midway pause for interviews with the residents providing welcome humour and lightness to the otherwise dark and intense horror. And while it takes a little while to get going, once it kicks off, it really kicks off, with the last half-hour in particular offering a barrage of unrelenting thrills and supsense few films achieve in their entire running time. It is kudos to the cast (in particular, the wonderful Valesco) that the fear remains palpable and the terror believable. And as the true nature of the chaos is gradually revealed, [●REC] is elevated to exceptional status.
No horror film since Ringu has left as indelible impression on my mind as [●REC]. And as the experience will no doubt be diluted by the upcoming sequel (from the original makers) and American remake (with the more generic title of Quarantine, complete with spoilerific trailer, though with the likeable Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter in the lead role), anyone with even the slightest interest in horror is strongly advised to catch [●REC] as soon as possible, in all its raw, disturbing and thrilling glory.