Picking up where the original left off, [REC] 2 offers a bevy of first-person scares and moments rife with tension. It’s an admirably efficient horror exercise with an in-your-face, down-to-business sensibility that never lets up. The picture lacks the fully-rounded, satisfying sense of a narrative arc introduced and explored, but it provides a fine dose of sheer visceral entertainment.
Shot in the Blair Witch/Cloverfield handheld style, the picture forgoes exposition to send a new team into the sealed off apartment building overrun with zombies, into which (in the original) a TV reporter and her cameraman descended, never to return. The new, rather brainless squad consists of a medical officer (Jonathan Mellor) hiding a secret and a SWAT team.
Filmmakers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza bring palpable urgency to the production, though it occasionally resembles a glorified, glossier version of Doom and other first-person shooters. The switches between various video formats — SWAT helmet cameras, DV cams — and fade to black interruptions enhance the aura of authenticity, the sense that we’re experiencing a crisis in real time alongside the characters. It’s sufficiently disorienting, propelling the audience through labyrinthine rooms, across an endless spiral staircase and infusing enough doubt as to the presence/methodologies of the infected antagonists that one remains perpetually uneasy. Not a nook or a cranny goes unexplored, and so much as a move toward a window results in a hail of sniper bullets unloaded by the shooters lining adjacent roofs.
There’s an art to transforming a freewheeling, improvised aesthetic into an efficiently molded genre exercise. By relentlessly focusing on plot advancement, introducing welcome twists within an overarching layer of mystery and finding a way to offer revealing character details amid the chaos, the filmmakers have done so. The apartment building setting serves as a terrifying, real world house of mirrors. Through the remnants of everyday relics and other signs of decay strewn throughout, the directors convey the haunted character of so many similar urban spaces, in which doors, walls and windows may hide terrible secrets.
With two [REC] sequels ahead, its makers should be wary. Both crazed, fast-moving zombies as villains of choice and the first-person cinematic style have begun to grow tired. They’ve been worn down, like so many once fresh ideas before them, by Hollywood’s overuse. There’s also, as the picture’s ending makes clear, more for Balagueró and Plaza to explore than the apartment building, and enough potential in the ever-deepening narrative for the franchise to go to some interesting, twisted places.
[REC] 2 — an intense, well-acted adrenaline rush — commands attention. Now the filmmakers must use the good will they have created, draw on their aptitude for intense, smart genre filmmaking and step outside the apartment to explore the horrors beyond the front door.
The Upside: This is a well-directed, visceral adrenaline rush that makes you excited for future sequels.
The Downside: The constant commotion occasionally overwhelms the narrative arc; speedy zombies and first-person, found footage cinema are starting to grow tired.
On the Side: The original [REC] was remade as Quarantine.