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April 23, 2008

I’ve always really liked perky. Perky goes a long way with me. And in Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) perky gets redefined as a bored and eager-for-any-story TV reporter, out for some thrilling on the spot reportage for a Spanish programme about people who work through the night, kicking her heels in a Barcelona fire station. With the crew sleeping and an empty station house to slope around in, she and her cameraman Pablo, long for the alarms to go off and a real-life call out to get their adrenalin pumping.

Be careful what you wish for. Soon, the call comes in and they’re racing through the night to an apartment block where an old woman is reportedly locked in her flat. Inevitably, there is more to the call than that, and it seems the woman is hysterical and very violent. Bewilderingly, after the old girl attacks a policeman, the fire crew, Angela and Pablo, and the other residents, find themselves locked in the building by the emergency services. And then they hear screams, and moments later, a body falls to the bottom of the stairwell.

[REC] unravels pretty quickly from this basic premise and the young directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza waste absolutely no time in cranking up the tension with off-camera sounds, shaky glimpses of various atrocities and an almost endless soundtrack of screeching from Angela, who turns from perky to petrified very rapidly. It’s a movie made almost entirely of clichés (whispered to-camera fear, green creepy night vision, wobbling running shots, static but out-of-focus periods when brief exposition is needed) , but it’s told totally straight-faced and with a fierce conviction that genuinely makes you believe what’s put in front of you.

Sure, bodies on gurneys start to twitch; absolutely, there are people talking in front of glass screens when an arm shoots through and grabs them; and totally, the last ones alive are the reporter and her fella…but so what? [REC] works within its limited frame (no pun, probably) because it just does it, delivers, and then gets out. At a smidge under 80 minutes, this is exhilarating stuff, and if something rubbish comes along – and there are a few wincingly bad moments – then a moment is all they are. The wedged-in back-story when – stupidly – an attempt is made to explain the situation, is unnecessary and ham-fisted, but it’s over swiftly and we’re back in the mix soon after.

One thing [REC] isn’t is boring, and that’s a lesson Cloverfield palpably never managed to learn.

However, I think that the Horror POV genre should now be closed. Really. If we include the no-radar-blip Brit thriller The Zombie Diaries, of which I’ve only seen the trailer, then this has been a very heavily ploughed field for yer average fan…2008 has thrown some bad (Cloverfield, natch) and some good (Diary of the Dead) at us, but with [REC] it’s clear that we probably have all the entries we need for now, thanks very much.

That isn’t to say that it is at all a bad film; indeed, I rate it pretty highly, but I think that in a fresher market it might have made a bigger and better impact. Plus, with other people being pulled quite justifiably across to see El Orfanato, it will almost certainly lose out to the high end, slick, Spanish thriller crowd, too. At the moment, it’s not going to get the audience it deserves, and that will be a shame.


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