Written by: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, and Manu Diez
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco and Óscar Zafra
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“Through the sign of the cross, free us of our enemies, Our Lord.”
For one of the most satisfying and purely terrifying experiences from the past decade, look no further than the original [REC], which is just a balls-to-the-wall blast of gore-soaked hysteria. And, if you like what you see, get ready for round two, which slams even more balls against an even more blood-splattered wall. From the same writer/director duo as the first film, [REC] 2 is a spectacular sequel that delivers heaps of the original’s formula while shaking it up a bit.
Picking up fifteen minutes after Manuela Valesco was dragged off by some unseen force in the first film, [REC] 2 follows the exploits Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor), a Ministry of Health official who has been sent to recover evidence of the virus that has ravaged an apartment building. Accompanied by a SWAT team, Owen searches for patient zero, a little girl who was subjected to experiments (these things always go horribly wrong). Deep secrets about his identity and the nature of the virus are eventually revealed as everyone (including a trio of curious kids who sneak into the complex) just tries to survive long enough to escape the building.
Balaguero and Plaza have learned one of the best tricks of the horror trade: if an audience really digs something, give them more of it--literally. Since we start right in the middle of things, the already lean storytelling from the original becomes even more so, as we’re plunged right into the middle of total chaos. This time, however, we’re given multiple vantage points, as each soldier comes with his own HUD, which opens things up and makes things feel bigger (no small feat for a sequel of this type considering the setting). Also ratcheted up is the sheer frenzy, as [REC] 2 is imbibed with the apocalyptic dreariness of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, though it jolts along with the intensity of Snyder’s redux.
Speaking of the bespectacled horror master, this might be the best “Romero flick” that Romero never directed. Paranoia and claustrophobia abound both inside the building and out, as a sinister military hangs in the background to ensure no one escapes (one scene in particular shows the appalling lengths they’ll go). The military/science dichotomy is one that Romero (and several others) has employed, and it leads to the usual spats and distrust here; though we’ve visited this world once before, there are still some secrets that make everyone (including the audience) a bit wary. Eventually, the religious thread left dangling at the end of the first film gets picked up and reveals an interesting clinical pseudo-science angle on demonic possession.
All of that stuff is really just a nice undercurrent for one hell of a horror show. The real star here is the guerrilla first-person style, which captures the film’s terrors both with what it shows (with fleeting glimpses) and what it doesn’t. The stuff we do see--the Linda Blair-inspired theatrics, the grotesque infected designs, the splattery gore--is intensely realized because the film is wound so tight from the outset. Look at it like this: if the end of [REC] was the lighting of a fuse, this one is like a series of subsequent fire-cracker explosions. One sequence exhibits especially marvelous direction: a grunt gets isolated, leaving him to face hordes of the infection alone in a scene that recalls the first-person horrors of Doom and Wolfenstein. In many ways, [REC] 2 does survival horror better than most games of that type. What is heard is also important; once again, sound design is a key component, as the feeling of being completely immersed in this hell hole is vital. Bumps and screeches wait around every turn, and even the tiniest of ambient noises sound stunningly real.
The “dive right in” approach seemingly undercuts character development, at least in the traditional sense. We don’t really get to know who these people are--these grunts, this man of science, this group of teens. We do, however, sense that they have somehow existed before the various cameras began to roll. They also make for some downright hysterical folks thanks to some inspired, powerful performances that completely sell the film’s frightening events. An interesting narrative technique brings them all together, as the film messes around with chronology and perspective to give us two concurrent stories that converge in a hellacious, frantic final act that holds the film’s best twist.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that said twist leaves the door open for more sequels. I was already aware of that fact since both a sequel and a prequel have apparently been in the works for a while. Unfortunately, if history repeats, they won’t hit North American shelves for some time; I’m not sure what takes these things so long to get here, but, like the first film, [REC] 2 finally hits America well after its Spanish theatrical debut. Better late than never, though, and Sony has delivered a fine disc. The anamorphic transfer is great, band the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is fantastic and exhibits a high level of clarity. It’s also (thankfully) a Spanish language track, which is of course subtitled. There’s also a fair amount of special features, which include some lengthy behind-the-scenes docs that explore the nuts and bolts of specific scenes in the film. Totaling about an hour in length, they manage to be interesting looks at the difficult technical aspects of capturing this type of film. Footage of the Sitges Film Festival news conference and more footage of the cast and crew on tour at various other festivals make up the other features. Finally, some deleted and extended scenes round out a pretty robust offering. Though it would have been nice to have it much earlier, it’s hard to complain about the treatment [REC] 2 has finally received. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take as long for the next two because Balaguero and Plaza have crafted two of the most impressive horror flicks in recent memory. Buy it!
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