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Fantastic Fest Review: [REC] 2

By  · Published on September 26th, 2009

I’ve said before that I love being scared. There’s nothing quite like the sheer physical torment of fearing for your own grizzled mortality while somewhere deep, deep within your subconscious there’s a small voice constantly whispering to you that you’re safe. It’s only a movie. Everything is going to be okay.

It’s not often that I get to say that a horror film is anywhere near perfect, but REC 2 is such an amazing experience (both movie-wise and fear-wise), that there’s just no better adjective for it.

Coming off of the sealed-off apartment of REC, the story begins mere moments after the last film ends as a S.W.A.T. team prepares to enter the building with a mysterious man from the Health Department. What they find is the truth behind what’s been going on and, of course, a ton of still-starving victims of the virus chomping at the bit for human flesh.

This movie scared me so much I forgot my own name.

There was some trepidation after REC that directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza wouldn’t be able to maintain the level of excellence they proved with the first film. After all, it’s unclear where the story would go if it remained inside the apartment building, but somehow they (along with co-writer Manu Diez) have pulled something that manages to be both fun and frightening out of a blood-soaked police officer’s hat.

The choice was clearly to innovate and expand. Instead of the television crew’s camera, the terror is recorded on the high-tech, military helmet cams worn by the S.W.A.T. men. It’s another natural reason for the footage to exist (as in, a meaningful use of shaky cam that occurs organically instead of gimmicky), and it ups the ante by allowing different view points to pop in-screen or take over altogether. There’s also another camera that comes into play as a group of curious teenagers follows a policeman into the building. Luckily, the cameramen seem to have steadier hands (or heads) so the footage is all as jarring as possible without becoming annoying or sickening.

What makes REC 2 work so effectively is that it’s stripped down to the barest of elements. Admittedly, it does have a head start by trading off of the tension built in the first film, carrying us back into a space we fought so hard to get out of with wanton disregard for our safety or sanity. The first half hour is tense just by virtue of the memory of that damned apartment building. That space is so pedestrian that it looks like any place you’ve ever lived plus the added bonus of a bloody pair of handcuffs on the stairwell and blood leading into open apartment doors. It’s the little things, the minimalism that works so well in transforming a normal place into one that sets your brain desperately hunting for reasons to leave the theater.

It may have been said with REC, and it’s the best cliche in the horror world, but REC 2 does for apartments what Jaws did for the beach. Except you can avoid the beach.

What’s surprising is that the movie is more fun than the first. That’s not a huge feat considering how gruesome the first one is, but the expansion of the plot and the mystery behind the virus takes some great turns and manages to slyly lull the audience into curiosity so they’ll forget that they are more interested in running out of the building immediately instead of investigating that pale-skinned, Courtney-Love-after-Chernobyl monster further.

The acting is stellar, perfectly natural considering how difficult it must be to place yourself in that kind of terror for the camera. At least there’s no way this could be method acting.

What’s difficult to put into words is the reason that the movie is as scary and compelling as it is. Obviously, the environment and the ferocity of the creatures, but also the limited way that the camera can capture an already-claustrophobic area. In fact, they manage to create at least one sequence that’s in an even tighter space than the small penthouse apartment. The set up is such that you’re always expecting something to happen and when it does, the violence and intensity is delivered. The over all combination creates an experiential effect that takes you out of your theater seat and places you exactly where you don’t want to be.

Which is exactly why you should want to be glued to your seat. Over all, REC 2 is a near-perfect horror film that delivers fear and violence and a serious amount of gore. Plus, it has one of the best kills I’ve ever seen in a horror film. It turns out that demonic zombie creatures are not immune to fireworks. And, yes, if you aren’t cheering from your seat at that point, you might need to check your heart rate. On a related note, you should probably check your heart rate anyway because the movie is just that damned terrifying.

Beautiful, surprising and innovative, this movie is a frightening cardio work out that must be experience.

The Upside: A sequel that delivers the fear of the first, adds to the story and avoids becoming a retread

The Downside: One of the characters is a bit annoying solely to keep the action inside the apartment building (and that’s basically just nit-picking).

On the Side: Did you know that REC 3 is being made soon? Because it is, and holy hell it will probably be amazing.

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