In the early days of The Vault of Horror, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza's [Rec] was the one of the very first new horror films I passionately championed. I wanted to get the word out about this fantastic Spanish zombie film that, unfortunately, was not known to many American fans. It turned out I wasn't the only one, as lots of other writers in the horror blogosphere with which I was just becoming acquainted were also raving about it.
In my opinion, the original [Rec] was the most downright terrifying horror film of the previous decade. It was the kind of a movie that grabs the neckhairs of even a hardened fright film watcher like myself and says: "Be afraid." So it was with great relish that I latched on to the opportunity to experience [Rec] 2, Balaguero and Plaza's continuation of their tale of undead outbreak. And I'm excited to say that it was an intense flick that's almost as much fun as the original, and in some ways, even more interesting.
[Rec] 2 picks up the action right where we left off at the end of the first one--kind of like a Rocky movie, except with dead people instead of boxers. We're right back on the scene of the quarantined apartment building, as a SWAT team and a special government agent infiltrate the structure to figure out just what the hell is going on inside. Matters are further complicated by a group of overly curious teens who sneak into the building as well.
The story is told, once again, in cinema verite style, with all the action depicted via "real life" video recordings. It's the same "found footage" approach taken by cinematographer Pablo Rosso in the original, except this time the film makers kind of riff on that style, giving us several different points of view from a few different camera sources, such as the cams carried by the SWAT members, the camera inevitably carried by one of the teens, etc. It's all edited together to create a real feeling of development from the original; Balaguero and Plaza are consciously exploring and expanding the visual "gimmick" they introduced the first time out.
This time, however--and this felt like an intentional decision--the action is less chaotic, and more coherent. One of the criticisms of the original (thought not by me) was that it was almost too realistic, with a constant stream of panicked yelling and screaming, and stretches of action so muddled by movement and noise as to be overly disorienting. This time, the whole thing feels a bit more dramatized, more traditional in presentation, and I don't mean that necessarily as a negative. Rather, I found it to be a change of pace and just one of the things that make this movie anything but the tired aping of the original that it easily could've been.
Another area in which there is bold and fascinating development going on is the direction taken by Balaguero, Plaza and their scripting collaborator Manu Diex in the actual narrative. Whereas the first time out, we got a straightforward modern, infection-style zombie film, with only some hints at the end of the supernatural, this time things go full-tilt into the realm of the occult. This might put off some who appreciated the more "grounded in reality" approach of the original (whatever that may mean in a movie about the living dead), but I found this to be the most rewarding development of all.
[Spoilerish stuff ahead] What we wind up with is sort of a cross between 28 Days Later and The Exorcist, with our undead turning out to be not quite zombies after all, but closer in species to Sam Raimi's Deadites, or perhaps a whole bunch of very angry Regan MacNeils, if you prefer. It's demonic possession that spreads organically, like a contagion. I was totally enthralled by this concept, and pleasantly surprised that the story went in this direction. Science and religion are blended into the kind of hybrid that takes a little getting used to, but is nevertheless original, engaging stuff.
My biggest gripe would be the one aspect in which this sequel does slavishly attempt to follow its predecessor, which is in the presentation of the monstrous Madeiros girl who is the source of the infection. You can feel the movie building up once again to the big reveal, just as it did the first time, and you get the sense that they were shamelessly trying to reproduce the sheer terror and adrenaline rush of that infamous climactic scene in the original in which main character Angela Vidal first encounters the possessed girl.
Here, the scene feels forced, tacked on, and worst of all, is built on some heavy-handed pseudo-religious/scientific nonsense I just didn't buy, which insisted that the girl could not be seen in the light, since she was shunned by God or something like that. As a result, the only way to see her, conveniently enough, is via the night-vision camera used to see her in the original. Furthermore, this doesn't explain why the creature was unable to interact with them earlier in the film (just because they couldn't see her?) Anyway, not to belabor the point, this is a relatively small problem in an otherwise very enjoyable horror film.
[Rec] 2 also ends with a little twist and some flashback footage that both lets us in on what exactly happened to Angela when she got pulled down that air duct, and also sets us up for a [Rec] 3 which looks like it will go in a far more large-scale, ambitious direction than the previous two. All in all, it's a more traditional horror film than its predecessor, with some intriguing thematic and narrative developments, even if the re-treading of somewhat familiar territory unavoidably ensures that it's not quite the white-knuckle roller coaster of pulse-pounding terror that the original was.
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