Cloverfield, Redacted, Diary Of The Dead: when people look back on 2008 they might be tempted to dub it ‘the year of the handheld horrors’. Though not strictly a new style of filmmaking, the handheld camera is finding itself cropping up in more mainstream films and is often more shocking than its steadier counterparts because of its realistic nature. Continuing these scary and shaky footsteps is the Spanish import [Rec], a low-budget zombie film from directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, set in Barcelona.

TV presenter Ángela (Manuela Valasco) and her cameraman Marcos (Pablo Rosso, also the cinematographer) are doing a puff-piece report on a local fire station for a news program - following the crew to an inner city apartment where an old lady is heard screaming. They arrive to find police at the scene and the lady looking suitably frantic, before she takes a bite out of one of the officers. As Ángela and the neighbours try to escape they find they have been quarantined by local forces in an effort to contain the spread of this deadly virus, leaving the residents as trapped prey to an increasing mob of the undead, all while Ángela and Marcos document the events.

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While the premise may be derivative of other films and the handheld style is hardly unique, [Rec] nevertheless remains an engrossing and very terrifying experience thanks to credible performances and strong direction. In its 85 minute runtime [Rec] contains a high scare rate which becomes increasingly relentless towards the end of the film. The undead are more 28 Days Later’s rage-infected than Romero’s shuffling zombies, made scarier by the claustrophobic apartment block setting, and [Rec] employs all manner of shocks from falling bodies to terrors in the dark to some impressively choreographed brutal attacks.

The filmmakers exploit the technical issues of recording on handheld camera to enhance the scares - shots taken while running are sometimes very disorientating, the sound occasionally becomes warped and distorted, and the green hue of the nightvision is always unnerving. While the subtitles may distance the viewer from the reality, the realistic style is almost entirely maintained throughout [Rec] and technical feat of some of the long takes is impressive. The only minor blip comes when Ángela’s rewinding is inexplicably captured on the tape, something a DV camera couldn’t record.

[Rec], like most handheld films, should come with a warning for those with motion sickness; neither is it for the faint of heart – there are enough good scares here to satisfy a hardened horror fan and traumatise the uninitiated. It will be interesting to see what the American remake (called Quarantine, released in October) will be like, but it’s good to know that Balagueró and Plaza are involved in the rewrite. That said, I doubt a remake could match [Rec]’s effectiveness.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2008
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A news crew get trapped in an apartment block with a deadly virus and something else...
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Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Writer: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, Luis Bardejo

Starring: Manuela Velasco, Javier Botet, Manuel Bronchud, Martha Carbonell, Claudia Font, Vicente Gil, Maria Lanau, Carlos Lasarte, María Teresa Ortega, Pablo Rosso, Pep Sais

Year: 2007

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain

Festivals:

Viva 2008
Glasgow 2008

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