[REC] was one of the finest horror films in recent years. It was an explosion of visceral horror. For me, it was a genuinely exciting film not just literally (though it is an adrenalin rush to watch) but also in its imagination and sheer claustrophobic power. If you’ve not seen it and you’ve any interest in the horror genre, I strongly recommend it. [REC] 2, well, we’re not in Highlander 2 territory, thankfully, but despite all the same ingredients being present, this time, the result is a flabby mess.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, the original film features a local Barcelona ([REC] and [REC] 2 are English-subtitled Spanish language films) news reporter and her cameraman following a local fire station on its evening rounds. They’re called to an apartment building when an old lady is said to be in distress. Before long they’re trapped in the building as ferocious and fast moving zombies start killing off the inhabitants and the authorities seal the whole place off to contain the outbreak.
It’s a fast paced film, short and at times genuinely frightening. It doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, but it suggests a lot, including suggesting that the zombies may be in fact be victims of a form of infectious demonic possession.
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[REC] 2 begins literally minutes after events of the first film ended. The authorities have the building sealed off, and are sending a public health official and a SWAT team in to reassert control. The SWAT team have shoulder mounted video cameras, and the film is largely seen from the perspective of those cameras (the original is presented as found footage taken from the TV cameraman’s camera, a conceit which works much better than its equivalents in Diary Of The Dead or Cloverfield since it is at least the cameraman’s job to film everything that’s happening). That’s not a bad premise. It’s essentially the approach Aliens took in following Alien, and Aliens is a successful movie. The problem here is this may be the most incompetent SWAT team in the history of cinema.
I understand that it’s a staple of horror movies that characters often act unwisely. I understand that it’s a staple of zombie movies in particular that the police and military are incompetent. Even so, the SWAT team are told before going in that the building is full of people infected with a highly contagious form of super-rabies which makes them extremely dangerous. Would they really make no effort to secure the apartment doors as they head upstairs? There’s a reason in the film they need to go straight to the top floor, but would they really make no attempt to secure the route back down? One of the characters even comments that they should have secured their exit. Well, yes.
It gets much, much worse. When in a building filled to your knowledge with people infected with a virus that turns them into aggressive killing machines, would your response to hearing music downstairs really be to send one team member off on his own to check it out?
It was at that (early) point I lost all confidence in the film. The shoulder mounted cameras are not there so the SWAT team can co-ordinate; they’re there so they can watch each other being attacked. At no point did I find myself believing these were the highly trained professionals they were supposed to be. Not when they wandered off on their own, not when they failed to take the slightest precautions to protect themselves, not when it became apparent they hadn’t bothered to bring along such basic equipment as spare ammo.
There are other problems beside credibility. The four SWAT team members are hard to tell apart, being essentially four gruff tough guys. Since none had an established personality, I didn’t care what happened to any of them. Part way through, the film introduces three more characters in the form of local teenagers who’ve snuck past the Barcelonan troops and police and entered the building with a video camera of their own. None of the three is remotely sympathetic or interesting, so when they’re trapped in there with the SWAT team it’s hard to care.
Worse, at the halfway point the film switches to their point of view. This means reliving much of the first half of the film (and it wasn’t that interesting the first time) but this time doing so from the perspective of characters who really have no earthly reason to be there or to be filming any of it. The first film steadily cranked up its pace until by the halfway point the viewer is almost as panicked as the characters. Here at the halfway mark the pace suddenly sags, as we switch from the embattled SWAT team to the kids making their way into the building.
Along with poor characterisation, a plot wholly dependent on character imbecility and problems with pacing the film has one final flaw. It over-explains. Where the first film left much implied, here we find out what’s going on. The trouble is, what’s creepy when implied risks being silly when made unambiguous.
With all the foregoing, you might well be forgiven for asking why I even gave this a rating of four. It’s not a total disaster. It has genuinely creepy moments, the location still works well (though not as well as in the first film) and it still managed to make me jump a few times. It’s not absolutely terrible, it’s just not very good which given how good the original was is a great shame.
At the end though, the most frightening part of [REC] 2 is that two more sequels have already been announced. I watched a preview version of the film which came without extras.