[Rec] 2 (2009) – Paco Plaza, Jaume Balagueró

 

Making a sequel isn’t easy. You basically have two options. Try to continue the story, or just recycle the same elements from the first one but just crank up the volume. The latter is not preferable (Speed II: Cruise Control, Escape from L.A., Tyler Perry’s: Why Did I Get Married Too?) We’ve seen too many wonderful franchises fall victim to the Hollywood hype. Usually you lose a director or a lead actor. Maybe both. The budget usually goes up but the quality goes down. Otherwise, you can just continue on with the story. It’s tempting to try and retrofit a new plotline onto the original film. I generally don’t advise this. But Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza get it right in [Rec] 2, their 2009 follow-up to [Rec]. It’s another found footage (ugh) zombie flick but it expands on the religious explanation for the zombie outbreak that was just touched on in the first one.

In general, I liked the way this movie was done, but I do want to say that I don’t think the first movie needed a sequel. Yeah it left you with a lot of questions, but was scarier that way. [Rec] 2 feels like it is a part of the first movie. It takes place right where the other movie ends, and we even get to see some of the characters from the first that (we thought) were dead.

The opening scene of this movie is actually the final scene of the original. Then it cuts to a new crew. The premise of this one is that a swat team and a medical examiner are entering the quarantined building from the first movie to assess/contain the outbreak. SWAT guys has a camera on his helmet and they periodically call these cameras up to show what each guy is seeing. So they go through the apartment building and we see blood, body parts on the floor where people got killed in the first one but there’s nobody there. They hear noises upstairs so they work their way up through the floors to the penthouse where the first movie ended. Once we’re up there, we find out that the medical examiner knows more than he’s letting on and he’s got some other objectives besides saving civilians.

We learn that the virus that broke out in the apartment was actually engineered (in this apartment building) and somehow makes the host susceptible to possession by a demon. This demon is what makes people turn crazy and start eating each other. The medical examiner actually turns out to be a priest who is looking for a blood sample from the original possessed/infected girl so an antidote can be synthesized. We met this “girl” in the first movie and the meeting was..well, unpleasant. The squad finds a blood sample but it bursts into flames when the priest does a test on it (remember the blood scene in The Thing). Now they have to track down the actual girl and draw some of her blood. Needless to say that proves more difficult than it sounds. The team runs into several more zombies and a group of kids who snuck in to the building. Things get messy.

Overall, this movie does a good job of maintaining what we loved about the original while adding enough to make it interesting and keep us guessing. The claustrophobic feeling you get from the long, cramped hallways is still there. Everything is dark and lit by flashlights, helicopter spot lights, or night vision. It’s hard to see what’s right in front of you. It really pulls you in and makes you feel like you’re in the room with these people and these monsters. I usually don’t like when they recycle the same shots in a sequel, but there are some more incredible night vision shots in this one too. So crazy suspenseful and scary.

As for the “found footage” thing. I’m getting a little tired of it. The whole documentary/mockumentory/cockumentory (ok I made that last one up- but if you were going to make a documentary about porn or well, dicks I guess, it would be perfect) film style is gimmicky and, in my opinion, a little bit of a cop out. I’m all for innovation and trying new things with filmmaking, but let’s move on. I get that it’s supposed to draw the viewer in and give the movie a more authentic feel, but why can’t you do that with the writing and the acting? Don’t get me wrong, Balagueró and Plaza do a good job with this one and I don’t feel that they used the style as a crutch. In fact they played with it a bit. The brought in 2 other characters with cameras as well as cycling through several SWAT helmet –mounted cameras. That helped break up the POV and let us meet the characters behind the cameras a bit. This was a nice touch.

Overall, this was a slick modern zombie movie. I like how they bridged the gap from the first film to the sequel. There’s a third installment out and it’s got the same directors. That’s a good sigh. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it. I’ll be posting a review as soon as I see it.

  1. Is it scary: 7- Dark, claustrophobic, and creepy. The atmosphere is perfect and to boot there are nasty fast zombies around every turn.
  2. Originality: 5- Nice addition to the story of the first movie. I like that the explanation of where the zombies came from. It was plausible but not too specific to draw extra attention to it.
  3. Blood: 7- Pretty damn bloody. Not over the top, but just what you’d expect from this one.
  4. Believability: 6–There were a few scenes where I was practically yelling at the screen. “Shoot him. SHOOT HIM!” These SWAT guys were a little too reserved with their ammo. There’s a certain point where you’d shoot just about anybody snarling and hissing blood and charging at you in a dead sprint. And yet, they didn’t, and now they’re dead.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6- Like I said, setting: great. Creepy, cramped and scary. Found footage cinematography: ehh. Balagueró and Plaza handled it as well as anyone, but still minus 1 point. Too gimmicky.

Final Score: 31/50

REC (2007) – Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

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Continuing with my theme of zombies for the week is the this Spanish found-footage (first-person/ Blair Witch-style) flick, REC. Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza give us a new twist on the zombie genre while mixing in some other psychological elements, mostly brought on by the use of the first-person style. The shaky/choppy camera makes it hard to really see what’s happening, and that really conveys the feeling of chaos and fear happening on screen. Most of the movie takes place inside of a locked-down/quarantined apartment building. This adds to the mix a nice feeling of claustrophobia and helplessness. Add to this some modern, fast-paced, nasty zombies, a bunch of dark corners and hallways, and a sinister back story  and you’ve got a damn scary movie.

Now, there are a few elements that I disagree with, but overall, I think this is a really good horror movie. I get the feeling that the camera style is actually used to make up for or conceal something that’s lacking. They seem to be using the fact that you can’t see what’s happening as an excuse to not fully develop certain things. Maybe I’m just being picky. I’ve never been a big fan of this style. I want to see what’s happening. Have confidence in your scenery, and your special effects and show me everything. This only came up a couple of times specifically so maybe I’m just overreacting.

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I have two other serious problems with the whole first-person camera style and then I’ll drop it. First, how the hell does the battery last long enough to film an entire movie? He’s using the floodlights and night vision for half the film. That’s got to eat up a lot of battery. (There’s actually a scene in Cloverfield where he stops and turns off the camera to charge it. Thank you.)  And secondly, I’m having trouble believing that the police or the clandestine CDC-style agents in nuclear melt-down gear are allowing this dude with a professional TV camera just follow them around while they shoot and club and snap the necks of sick old ladys and kids. But you just have to suspend your disbelief for a bit and get over it because the movie is actually really good. Don’t get too hung up on things like logic or believability. After all, you’re here to watch people eat each other. And don’t worry, there’s lots of that.

Ok so the movie opens up with Angela, a TV hostess who’s documenting the operations of a local fire station. Soon they get a call and she and her cameraman are off with them to rescue an old woman who’s trapped in her apartment. As soon as we show up, we find out there’s more going on in this apartment. The old lady is screaming gibberish (or Spanish? maybe both) and soaked in blood and she tries to eat the paramedics. So the cops and paramedics try to escape and get their wounded comrade to a hospital, but the Spanish version of the CDC comes along and blocks all the exits so nobody can get out. It becomes pretty apparent that the old lady’s condition is contagious and everyone basically starts eating everyone else.

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Now we’re trapped in this building, which is actually pretty dark and creepy already and everyone is screaming and fighting and eating each other. It’s like a night club but instead of Ecstasy, everyone is doing bath salts. So the ever-dwindling number of survivors tries to find a way to escape. They plan to go to the basement but somehow they end up in the attic (go figure) and there we find out the source of the infection. And there’s a couple of other surprises up there too.

The climactic scene is just about perfect and really scary as hell. It’s dark and suspenseful and exciting and terrifying and…OH MY GOD, WHY THE FUCK IS SHE BREATHING SO LOUDLY. CONTROL YOURSELF. It’s so intense my fists clenched up and I said this to the screen. Get a grip. Okay. All things considered, this movie really delivers everything you want it to. It spawned a pretty decent sequel and a really good U.S. remake (which spawned a god-awful piece of shit sequel) and I think there’s even a REC 3 out there.

Let’s see how the original stands up to the rating system.

  1. Is it scary: 8- Its creepy, it’s in your head and it’s in your face. The whole thing is really scary. It even builds up and gets more scary and intense as it goes.
  2. Originality: 7-They’ve done a good job updating an aging genre while maintaining the roots of what we love about it. I like the way they explain the way the infection was started. Clever twist.
  3. Blood: 7- We want lots of blood in a zombie movie and REC definitely delivers.
  4. Believability: 4- There was a lot here to make peace with before you could really enjoy this one. Also, they spent the whole fucking movie running up the stairs (I know they didn’t have much choice here but I have to call them on it.)
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6- I’m conflicted on this one. I’m not a big fan of the first-person thing – I feel like it’s kinda cheap and gimmicky. On the other hand, there are some cool shots and the setting is definitely creepy as hell.

Final Score: 32/50

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