[REC] came out in 2007 in Spain, and it was popular enough to get a sequel and also an American remake called Quarantine. And I say good for them, because it’s a clever idea well executed. You can tell the filmmakers are fans of horror making a horror movie for other fans.
It’s relatively low budget and was done in the first-person-movie style, but unlike Cloverfield (which came out a few months later), instead of watching annoying 20-something New Yorkers get eaten by a giant monster, you’re watching annoying Barcelonians locked in an apartment building and attacked by zombies. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, they used a steadier camera (it’s a professional TV crew in the fiction), and you don’t have to wait until the end of the movie for something interesting to happen. Unlike Paranormal Activity, something actually happens in the movie, and it doesn’t make you angry and sad about the gullibility of the American public that a movie so stupid and pointless could become so inexplicably popular.
Quarantine is the reason the movie’s easy to find in the US, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to see it instead of the original. I’m not saying it to be one of those people on the internet talking about horror movies — the fact that I’m just now writing about a 4-year-old movie should be evidence enough of that, plus I think The Ring is ten times better than the original — but because just looking at stills from the remake annoys me. It looks like every cliche come to life about Hollywood taking a pretty novel, original idea and ruining it.
And by that I mean that [REC] just works, even when it shouldn’t. It starts out as a scrappy indie film that tests the limits of the “found footage” gimmick, works up to a couple of pretty good scenes and then one fantastic moment. (If you’ve seen the movie: it’s the fall).
It starts to drift away from the gimmick a bit — sound effects, especially guns, that aren’t right; and a rewind/fast-forward bit that’s a little jarring — and it turns into a tight-but-predictable zombie movie. The tension ramps up, then it takes a brief side-trip into “Blue’s Clues” or “Dora the Explorer,” as the two ostensibly smartest characters keep asking each other for a bit of information that one of the other characters mentioned earlier, but they can’t remember. As they’re standing in front of the guy who’s been recording everything that happened that evening, and already re-wound the video once.
After that, it’s about 15-20 minutes of full-on Halloween haunted house. Right down to the climax, which sounds like something a teenager, or the designer of a Japanese survival horror game, would come up with. I’ve got to give them credit: they kept to the main storytelling gimmick and still managed to give the ending some exposition.
But at the end, you won’t miss the clever indie zombie movie you may have been hoping to see, because the cheap-scares haunted house is so well done. Pacing is excellent throughout, and the make up and sound effects are well done. Plus there’s just something inherently scary about first-person shots, and they take advantage of every variation, right down to the Silence of the Lambs night vision.
So ultimately, it’s not some obscure burst of creativity like The Devil’s Backbone, or a plucky low-budget upstart like The Blair Witch Project. It does, however, feel like an old-fashioned, fun B-movie, and it’s worth reading some subtitles to avoid seeing a slick Hollywood production drain all the life out of it.
Edit: When I say that looking at the stills of the remake annoys me, this shot is exactly what I mean. What TV video camera has depth of field like that? Or lighting like any of those shots? That’s not being picky, either, it’s just completely missing the central gimmick of the movie. Like explaining where The Birds came from.