Thursday, June 9, 2011

[REC]*, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Hard To Say Movie Titles

First a quick gripe. I've been hearing a lot of critics complaining about the new sequel to Hangover 2. Now, I haven't seen the film, so I can't myself judge if it's crap or not, it bugs me hearing "It's basically the same damn movie" used as if that's the worst possible thing a sequel could be.
Sometimes I think critics don't really have an understanding of what "awful" actually means. I mean, to go back to an earlier reference, Gus Van Sant did a completely shot by shot remake of Psycho, offering nothing new at all. Does that make it awful? No. Psycho 4 is awful.
Unoriginality does not instantly mean something is shit. Hell, I got some enjoyment out of Stargate Universe and it was so subtle with stealing from BSG that it might as well have been singing "With Cat-Like Tread," but that dind't make it a bad sci-fi show. It's not like it was Lexx or something, which was pretty original but still below average at best.
The following do not instantly make a movie bad: Low budget, unoriginality (be it remake, knockoff, or just generic), and unknown actors. Much in the same way that having a high budget, an original plot, and big name actors does not instantly make a movie good.

Now, I've been only handling franchises lately, and many of the entries there -have- been awful, so I want to take a quick break with this article to review a movie that I think is just amazing.

I've never been all that big on foreign horror. It's hard to find good recommendations, since even in the horror community there's just a focus on j-horror, and here in the US j-horror explicitly just means onryo movies.
That's why I find myself so thankful that someone a few years back pointed me towards [REC]. A warning for anyone that hasn't seen this. I don't normally post spoiler warnings, but this is a relatively new film, so I feel the need to warn that within the rest of this article there be spoilers.

[REC] is a Spanish (That is, Spain) zombie film done in the style of a documentary, much like Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, and The Last Broadcast. However, unlike those films, I genuinely enjoyed this and it honestly felt... just realistic enough to be immersive. I wanna start with that, realism. In this case, the characters.

You see, in Cloverfield, the cast is largely made up of complete idiots. I know, I know, many of you are probably thinking "So? Idiots are hardly uncommon." These people take their idiocy to an -extreme-. If you filled the theater with the cast of a dozen teenage slasher films, the entire audience would still be screaming "Don't go in there you moron! Don't go in there!"
The Blair Witch... they're a bit less stupid, but this time they're just irritating as hell. Y'know when you watch certain HBO show and it's obvious their definition of realism is " People using the word fuck after every other word." Beyond that they remind me of those types we all knew in school who did nothing but smoke pot, drink beer, and say retarded crap all day. I mean I guess that's realistic in that people like that do exist, but forcing me to watch three of them for the entire film, and nobody but them? Screw you, movie. Screw you.
The Last Broadcast's done in by the cheesiness of it. It kinda reminds me of that show where Riker would show us a bunch of stories, and we'd pick out which one was real and which one was fake. I mean it's done in the documentary style... -kinda-. I mean no documentary looks like this, the actors are all god awful, and the camerawork is more like something from a low budget horror film (which it is) than a documentary, complete with dramatic lighting, constant random focusing, etc.
With [REC]? For starters, it actually does look like a lot of "slice of life" reporting type shows I see on local news channels. The cast is all made up of people that seem... well, like people I'd bump into in real life. Even the reporter reminds me a lot of one of the reporters that'd get stuck doing those shows, or sent out to do live weather reports during a heavy storm. You know, the chewtoy reporters. The only kind of out of place characters are the doctor and the really flamboyant racist guy.

Due to the above, I found it really easy to immerse myself in the movie, and damn did it give me a good amount of time to do so. The film starts as a part of a late-night show the lead character, a reporter, does for her news channel that covers the men and women that do jobs that help out the nation late at night while the rest of us are sleeping, and tonight's topic is firemen. She interviews some of the firemen, gets a tour of the fire department, etc. and all seems pretty peaceful.
The alarm goes off and they're sent off to check out an apartment complex elsewhere, and the reporter and her cameraman follow them. This is still pretty... normal. I mean, at this point it's actually kinda easy to forget what you're watching.
They got to the complex,and discover the issue involves some disorderly tenant, and the cops have also been called in. This is still handled in a rather normal way, it doesn't really feel dramatic or anything, it's more like some minor thing you'd see on COPS or something.
Anyway, moving along. The reporter, her cameraman, the cops, and the firemen head up stairs to check out the disorderly tenant and we're treated to our first reminder that we're watching a horror movie. The tenant is a fat old woman that is covered in what appears to be blood. She wrestles with the cops when they try to hold her, and she bites into the neck of one of the cops. The reporter and her cameraman flee back downstairs as one of the firemen takes control of the situation. They start talking to the other people downstairs about what's going on, and we're given a sort of breather period. ...until suddenly, out of nowhere, said fireman's body falls to the floor, dead. This is handled so well that I actually jumped the first time, which is honestly quite an accomplishment.

The rest of the film follows the reporter and cameraman covering the reactions to the tenants as they are trapped inside the complex by a sort of CDC emergency, claiming that it's some strain of rabies that's spreading. Much like other zombie movies the tenants are slowly infected one by one, or just ripped to shreads by the others. How this differs from many modern zombie films is that the scariest scenes are the ones where we aren't sure -where- the zombies are, and there's an emphasis on that. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I love films that do this. There's nothing scarier than the unknown and the unseen.

By the end we're left with nothing, presumably, but the cameraman and reporter, who have found themselves in the room that may be the origin of this disease. Sadly, this is also my least favorite part of the film. It turns out that some priest kidnapped an allegedly demonically posessed girl and performed experiments on her. We find this out via hundreds of newspaper clippings that cover the walls, and an old worn tape that the survivors play. I found this to be kinda lame, but it could just be a personal bias against possession movies.
Thankfully, the film picks back up as the power goes out and the camera's night vision comes on. Here we're treated to easily the most scared I've felt watching a horror film made in the past decade. This completely makes up for the lame exorcism thing, because I don't even remember it afterwards, I just remember this scene. It's that awesome and horrifying.

There's a sequel out now called [REC]2 which is.. alright. It's about as realistic, but it's nowhere near as scary to me. It's worth watching, just don't expect the nightmare fuel that is the first film. I'm also not going to spoil it because the sequel is relatively obscure.
There's also an American remake called Quarantine, starring Dexter Morgan's sister. It's not bad. It's less realistic in its documentary feel, but it does improve the ending in my opinion. Still, worth a watch. The character's also pretty similar to Debra Morgan, so it has the added bonus of it being amusing to assume this is what happens to Debra next season.

I'll be back to my usual cynic-self in the next two articles, wherein I'm tackling Puppet Master and Jaws, after which I plan on taking another break to praise a film that I've long considered to be the greatest horror film ever made.

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