Tuesday, October 7, 2014

31 Days of Horror: [Rec]

Manuela Velasco plays a reporter on the worst assignment of her life in [Rec].

In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 7: [Rec]

To say that found-footage movies are much maligned would be an understatement. Where we stand now in movie history, they are seen as a gimmick – a cheap way to cut down on the effects budget and an easy way to inject immediacy into a story that may be lacking it.

If you are not familiar, found footage refers to movies such as Paranormal Activity or Cloverfield, wherein the premise is predicated on one of the characters using a home movie camera to document the action. The form was popularized 15 years ago with The Blair Witch Project. Since, it has been employed by low-budget horror and action filmmakers to wildly varying degrees of success.

But the best of these films, for me, can be enrapturing. [Rec] is on that level. Spanish co-directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza use the found-footage genre as an entryway into an energizing, shocking, and ultimately haunting story marked by richly developed characters and depths of meaning and emotion rarely explored in fright features.

Manuela Velasco plays a reporter filming a “day in the life” piece on firemen working at one of the local Barcelona stations. She and her cameraman tag along on a call to check on an old woman trapped in her apartment. The old woman, apparently infected, attacks them. They rush downstairs and find the building has been quarantined. The rest is a survival mystery punctuated by sequences of pure terror.

Often, found-footage movies rely on a shaky camera to sell fear and panic – that would be the effect that leaves some viewers of these films nauseous. One of the best choices Balaguero and Plaza make is putting their camera on the shoulders of a character who is a professional cameraman. His steady hands provide a stillness of observation that leaves the viewer squirming rather than the characters.

Velasco, a real-life television reporter, is excellent as the audience’s on-camera guide to the events at hand. As she climbs higher and higher into the building, searching for answers, safety, and escape, she is surrounded by an increasing population of infected residents, and the sinking feeling she has been abandoned by the authorities and by God grows undeniable. By the end, the audience is left to contemplate whether the infection is viral or spiritual, and that uncertainty of the soul is the stuff of nightmares – and the stuff of great horror films.

Tomorrow, a look at a classic horror gimmick making a modern comeback with its own religious inquisitiveness.

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