Rec is a Spanish found footage flick featuring zombies and I don’t want to hear one word about being the zombie guy on this project or I am just gonna flip, ok? It’s Paco Plaza’s (along with Jaume Balagueró) most famous work and has garnered quite a bit of praise not just as a good found footage flick, but as a great piece of horror from the 2000’s. Do we agree and how does it hold up? Let’s dig in.
Reviewed by: Jake
Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) is a reporter/show host in Barcelona and she, along with her trusty one-man camera and support crew are filming an episode of their show While You Were Sleeping at a local fire station. You know the type - day-in-the-life sort of thing. Like Dirty Jobs but with less humor and more Spanish and a lot more terrible basketball. While they are filming the episode the station alarm goes off and the firemen spring into action. She and her cameraman are allowed to ride along and they arrive at an apartment building where one of the residents is going fucking bananas. The woman quickly bites a police officer in the neck and as the fire crew works to get him down the stairs and out of the building, they discover that everyone inside is under quarantine and they must all await further instructions.
Ángela continues to document as the evening wears on and more information is uncovered. More people are injured or sick, and several of the folks inside are in dire straights - including the police officer who was bitten and a fireman who fell down the stairs in the atrium onto his head. Soon, a scientist from outside enters the building in a hazmat suit and attempts to administer shots to the injured men. This goes poorly and more people are bitten. From here, there is a tidal wave as the balance between the afflicted and the healthy rapidly tips. Before long, it’s only Ángela and her cameraman left, running from the horde. They make their way to the penthouse apartment and upon entering, uncover a dilapidated mess of a madman’s workshop, left behind by someone from the Vatican who was working on the case of a possessed Portuguese girl. They soon encounter said girl, however she is mutated beyond belief and she quickly kills Ángela’s cameraman, leaving Ángela alone in the pitch-black apartment with the monster. Ángela finds the camera and we see her get dragged away through its night-vision. Tough break. Doubt that episode will ever air… Oh wait.
What the Movie Does Right
Setting and atmosphere. The apartment building in this movie is straight-up bone chilling. The setting lends a real sense of authenticity to the film and the big, open atrium with spiral stairs running up 6 floors offers multiple sensory payoffs throughout the film. It produces cavernous acoustics which only get more and more foreboding as people are turned into the walking dead and you can hear their echoing shrieks in the darkness. It’s also a fairly ingenious way to add tension to the film as the confined spaces but open vertical expanse really disorient you as the viewer, particularly during the harrowing final third when there is bad shit both above and below the survivors, and you are not sure when or where the next one is going to pop out. It’s worth mentioning that there were no sets made for this movie. They filmed in an apartment building. It feels authentic because it is authentic.
And let’s go back to that harrowing final third for a moment. The last part of this film is incredibly intense. All resources cut off, Ángela and her cameraman have to quickly outrun the zombies seen above and get into the building’s penthouse apartment. This is frightening on multiple levels. First, because the movie does a good (subtle) amount of foreboding legwork by having the topic of the penthouse come up when the survivors are taking roll to ensure everyone is accounted for by referring to apartment numbers. It feels like a throwaway line to mention that the man from that apartment is never there and that it’s basically abandoned but that’s what we call Chekhov’s apartment. Once inside, fears are confirmed with an absolutely insane smattering of newspaper clippings, images, yarn and tape recordings. The whole nine yards. The power is already out at this point, mind you, so the characters are exploring only by the light on the camera, framing the terror in a pinprick of light and only allowing the viewer to see a tiny fraction of the apartment, where we know nothing good lurks.
It just gets worse from there with the attic jumpscare, entry of mutated/possessed? girl and simultaneous breaking of the light, forcing the characters to try to use night vision and the viewfinder to see anything whatsoever. It’s no surprise they die, but this is a masterclass in horror endings. It is completely balls-to-the-wall.
What the Movie Does Wrong
In this reviewer’s opinion, very little. Sure, the resolution and semi-twist towards the supernatural is convoluted and pretty unnecessary but I’ll take the payout of seeing Javier Botet in anything horror because dude is a literal and figurative giant. The twist was, in the end, probably for franchise considerations, which I’m not too hot on because the sequels go downhill in a hurry, but it’s hard for me to lash out too much because I loved the ending so much.
There are also some complaints that folks could make about the found footage elements of this film. They are certainly not the most egregious cases of “why are they still filming?” ever committed to the sub-genre, especially at the end when the reason for filming is literally because it is their primary survival tool, but in the earlier running there are parts that can kind of drag while Ángela interviews the tenants of the building. It’s understandable that this could have been filmed for her show, but there is no way, reporter or not, that she would be carrying out the same kinds of interviews as what we see here. I get that she’s a journalist so that alone should influence her to continue filming, but there isn’t enough of a shift from her original framework to what she ends up trying to do with a crazy situation to believe in it.
Finally, an extremely minor thing but worth mentioning - I had to watch this dubbed this time and there’s just no need for the way the Asian family’s characters were voiced. It’s a problem. Most of the dubbing was ok, but this was not…
Story: 7.5 - I’m giving this the upper end of the third quartile because it’s an effective story despite being something we have all seen (mostly). The turn towards the influence of possession is a bit odd and I can’t rightly tell if I think it helps or hurts anymore because I can’t un-know what lies ahead in the franchise. So be it.
World-Building / Immersion: 9 - I gushed about this setting and how it works like a well oiled machine to deliver the horror unto us as an audience. The only things keeping me from giving this a 10 are again the influence of possession and the turn to the surreal, and some minor question marks in the found footage stink test. If this were being rated only on this viewing then I’d go with a lower score due to the dubbing, but I’m not punishing it for that. Watch the Spanish audio if you can find it.
Scare-Factor: 7 - This is a harrowing flick. It’s one of the scariest zombie films I’ve seen and that’s in large part because of the setting.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 - This is mostly judicious lack thereof in the visual department. The most effects-driven bits are guarded heavily by substantial darkness. The sets aren’t sets so that’s a plus. The audio is also fantastic in terms of the ambient noise and there is no music to speak of, but the dubbing was shit.
Overall: 8 - I really enjoy this film. The world liked it enough to think it needed to have an English language remake which gave us Quarantine. It’s worth a watch but definitely check out the OG Spanish version. None of that language remake shit and avoid the dubbing.