Apparently, achieving just the right level of success can work against you. This would appear to be the case of the recent Spanish horror effort [REC]. Co-directed by Jaume Balagueró (who gave us the underrated Darkness and The Nameless) and Paco Plaza, this was one of Spain’s biggest box-office hits last year. Does that earn it a theatrical North American release? Not a bit of it. Instead, it earns itself a remake, under the title Quarantine. Though there are, apparently, some changes being made (the unfortunate jettisoning of the supernatural angle being one), from the looks of things, the new version is going to be a pointlessly exact retread (and speaking of pointless, why give us a trailer that shows the very last shot of the film?). Not only is [REC] not gracing the theatres, it is also being deprived, at least for now, of a domestic DVD release. But if I might speak a word to the wise, it is available as a Region 2 release, so those of you with region-free players know what to do.
Going through the effort of seeing [REC] is well worth it, because it is another example of the new wave of European horror at its finest. The set-up is becoming familiar by this point: in the vein of Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, we have a verité conceit. In this instance, we are seeing everything through the lens of the cameraman for While You Were Asleep, and lightweight news program where the reporter follows around the people who work the night shift. Tonight, she is profiling firemen, and we are along for the ride when a call comes in about a woman trapped in an apartment. The routine assignment becomes everything but when the woman savagely attacks an attending officer. Then residents, media and rescuers are sealed in the building by the authorities. What follows is not unknown territory. We are basically in cannibalistic zombie territory, though these folks have the rage and savagery of the infected in 28 Days Later, and the manner of infection (not to mention the aforementioned pronounced hint of the supernatural) also echoes Demons. Once the bad stuff starts happening, it happens at a frenetic pace, and the skill of the directors in deploying familiar material is astonishing. What we have here is another example of how anything old can be made fresh and vital is handled with inspiration and brio.
What works so well here? The hand-held technique is as effective here as it was in Cloverfield in conveying absolute chaos, total panic, and the claustrophobic sense of perpetually imminent danger. The limits to vision become especially unnerving at the climax, where we are reduced to night vision, and encounter what is surely the most disturbing creature to grace the horror genre in recent memory.
Something else that works amazingly well is the sound design. The surround sound is so good, one almost wishes it weren’t, because there is simply no escape from the disturbing howls of the attackers. And there is a moment relatively early on, just when things are starting to turn bad, that uses one of the most startling sound effects EVER. Believe me, you’ll know the scene when you encounter it. It will likely fill your dreams for some time to come.
Certainly, with a film done this well, it makes a certain sense that the remake be slavish in reproducing everything that works so well in the original. But then, why not simply give us the original? Would that really be so bad?