Review of Rec (2007)

Moving picture, 78 minutes

Seen in 2018.

Seen at the first Draken zombie film festival.

A two-person team from a Barcelona TV station accompanies two firefighters to an apartment building where it appears, incorrectly, that a woman has become trapped in her own apartment. She’s become a zombie under the influence of a demon-possessed woman who’s been roaming around the attic for years without anybody noticing.

Jump-scare horror. I see what they were trying to do: The Exorcist (1973) and The Blair Witch Project (1999) with more claustrophobia, fetishizing the reality TV genre’s unjustified exercise of authority and working up to the direct juxtaposition of a young (fertile), healthy, pretty, truth-seeking, charismatic and energetic woman with her “opposite”, an old (infertile), sick, ugly, secretive, violent and lethargic woman: the heights of good and evil, respectively, in stone-age popular imagination. It’s Jane Eyre (1847) with zombies: There is literally a madwoman in the attic competing with our heroine.

I see how they failed. To begin with, despite the found-footage conceit being a major selling point, the creators do not take that conceit seriously except to bring attention to it. They routinely mask a cut by inserting a graphical glitch, apparently pretending the camera has malfunctioned, thus bringing attention even to the cut and undermining the integrity of the narrative. At one point the footage is rewound as if on the camera because one character in the story has requested it: a deliberate ontological error. When the light on the camera breaks, the operator switches to NVD, forcing him to stare into the camera when he could have turned it around and used the light from the viewfinder or display or his cell phone etc. for an improvised weapon with the benefit of showing Ángela something. It is possible that the sound designer had some illusionist ambition and failed with similar shortcuts.

The characters referred to as Japanese in the credits do not speak Japanese to each other. The term “enzyme” was a good 40 years past its prime technobabble utility in 2007; it was OK for Flowers for Algernon (1966) but identifying an enzyme as the vector of a demonic plague while pretending that the one guy from Madrid thought it wise to do biochemical research on it in a regular urban penthouse with 19th-century equipment, despite working for the Vatican, is stupid. The alleged cellular and TV blackout is silly. The tabloid articles on the possession case are also silly. Informing people about a rabies-like disease is a great first step towards containing it: the authorities are implausibly stupid not to do that as soon as possible.

The one smart thing about the plot is the preemptive use of handcuffs, but the single disease control guy manages to screw up even that. I’m guessing the props department had to go through several plausible candidates before they manufactured handcuffs with chains that long.

The movie could easily have been good just by staying true to the found footage premise, having the authorities react sanely and following through on César’s hint, unfortunately a red herring, that there is a bomb shelter in the building: a more interesting source of a zombie problem and a more plausible place for a lab.

moving picture zombie fiction