There are a handful of zombie movies that attempt to use a kind of cinéma vérité style. REC is easily the best of the lot. The film uses a TV news crew filming a reality show about late-night workers as its central storytelling device. The on-air personality Angela and her cameraman are following a group of firefighters around. A call to help a woman trapped in her apartment turns into a harrowing ordeal when the woman turns out to be irrational and violent and the building is sealed from the outside by the authorities.
In many ways, REC plays out as an inversion of Night of the Living Dead. Both feature a small group of strangers trapped inside a building facing zombies. The difference is, in REC, the people are trapped in with the zombies, by hostile or uncaring authorities outside. This inside-out take on a classic situation serves to ratchet the tension up to excellent effect. Being trapped in a building by zombies is scary. Being trapped in a building with zombies is much, much scarier.
The real genius of this movie lies in its pacing. It is slow to start, but from the moment they break the door down on the woman’s apartment, the pace begins to accelerate. The reprieves are few and brief. Before long everything is panicked chaos, letting up only for a nerve-wracking cat-and-mouse finale in the darkness. Along the way there are numerous classic moments, some expected (any zombie movie vet knows that little girl is going to turn the moment they see her) and others less so (if I said, you’d be expecting them…).
The zombies will remind fans of Danny Boyle’s Rage-infected 28 Days Later creations (which means some of you may not consider them zombies at all — your prerogative). later in the movie, they’re revealed to have a very different origin, but it hardly matters where they came from when they’re sprinting at you, snarling and shrieking with inhuman fury, does it? We only occasionally get a decent look at any of them, but they seem to have reddish eyes, lots of icky blemishes and blood everywhere, which happens when you’re constantly biting the living shit out of folks. It’s a good look, especially on the initial apartment lady and the little girl.
Interpersonal tensions play a part in the movie, but it’s a minor role overall. There’s some prejudice against the Asian immigrants here, some mistrust of the sick girl there, general hostility toward the TV crew for filming some unpleasantries, but none of it gets played up much. That’s partly because everything happens too fast for much discussion. There’s no time to get hostile towards the neighbors when every two minutes the shit is hitting the fan in bigger and badder bursts. There’s also sort of a generalized mistrust of authority here, but again, it’s underplayed at best. This movie may have some hints of message, but it’s 90 percent thrill ride — there’s no time to slow down and preach. That might be construed as a weakness by some that insist that zombie movies must be a vehicle for a message first, but if you like your horror horrific above all, then there’s nothing to complain about here.