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Monday, July 19, 2010

[Rec] 2: A Better Film, But Also a Less Scary One

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.


matango said...

Spoilerish stuff below:

I saw this on Friday night in the theater. I thought it was great. Not quite as good as the original but still great.

The Ultimate Evil is adorable.

Pax Romano said...

Great review, B-Sol.

I enjoyed this movie, but not as much as the original. The demonic possession as a virus was kind of a nifty twist, but (like you) the "can't be seen in the light" bit was a bit much - as was the well (was that what it was, been awhile, I can't recall) that was only seen with the night vision.

It was a fun movie, but I enjoyed the first one much more than this. I hate when filmmakers feel that they have to top themselves.

Renee said...

You know, I actually liked REC 2 better.

I can't necessarily disagree that the climax from the first was more tense, but I felt more sustained tension throughout the entire running time of the sequel. Every time a SWAT guy walked past a closed door or a dark corner - which they did a lot - I was on pins-and-needles, and that just doesn't happen to me.

I also appreciated the ramping up of plot, and how the exposition scenes were handled, both of which I think add to the tension. The first seemed broken up into "exposition" and "being in danger as we run through the building"...it was scary as hell, but it gave me time to breathe. REC 2 didn't have that for me...it felt more organic. The threat was pervasive, and I'm not sure I did breathe until the credits rolled.

I love REC, I think it's a future classic. But this one was scarier for me (and also destined to be a classic, IMO).

Jess C. said...

Great review! I'm looking forward to seeing it now :)

Moodizzle said...

Jaume Balaguero’s [REC 2] was outstandingly freakin scary. Those who love his work in general need to watch the trailer for his film Fragile so that it wins Fangoria’s contest. Today is the last day. Don’t let Dark House win.


Dod said...

Great review, my friend. I've fallen in love with the [REC] series, and although I do see what you mean about it not being as insanely scary as the first, it's still scarier than a lot of movies out there. I'm actually looking forward to see what they do with a sequel (and a prequel, from what I've read).

Excellent stuff!

Seth Canes said...

I guess I sort of liked this movie, but I didn't feel it came close the to original in any way. The whole possession thing was revealed in the original, albeit more subtly, and some of the scares could have been executed so much better. that and I really freakin hated when the movie switched to the teenagers, which to me almost broke the mood entirely. I did however cheer loudly to myself when Angela reappeared.

B-Sol said...

Interesting range of reactions, even though most seem to have enjoyed it, more or less. Jess, I'm interested in your reaction after seeing it. Dod, have you just now discovered the series? The original is one of my all-time faves. Seth, I really didn't mind the teenagers, I saw them as a necessary plot device to move things along.

Anonymous said...

Loved this film. And even though the first intimated of the subject matter exposed in 2, it still rang pretty sweet. Such an original and as you mentioned, enthralling concept.

My vote (so far) for best horror film of 2010. OK ok, I know it came out last year but its just now hitting stateside.

BTW, we posted a cool interview with Paco Plaza last week. Some great factoids about the production of the film.

B-Sol said...

That was a great interview! I tried to get in on that action too, but I was too late, no more interviews :-(

Spike Ghost said...

I agree with pretty much everything you said in that review. REC2 is such a great film, and taking that direction with the story was ambitious and original, and even if it turns some people off, It's really well brought in the story (for an atheist like me at first i didn't want to believe what was really happening in the movie, but i was amazed by it). The cast is great.

And also, like you, the only think that put me off a little was the "can only be seen in the dark" thing, but that's just a small detail because the rest of the film was great. If they are able to pull off something as good on a larger scale with the 3rd movie then I'm really excited.

And the ending was so good, i should have expected it, but i didn't see it coming. the flashback... anyway you get what I'm trying to say, Great movie, it actually marked me more than the first (but that could be because i saw the first REC just before i saw INSIDE (À L'INTÉRIEUR), so of course Inside traumatized me more lol).

B-Sol said...

It's amazing, but it seems like REC 2 is getting an even more overwhelmingly positive response than the first one.

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