The film is a nightmare. The good kind of nightmare, the one where you’re breathing increases and there seems to be no escape. The kind of nightmare where you wake up and you need several minutes to catch your breath. I may be slightly embellishing, but there are moments that catch you off guard. The film works quite well at establishing tempo and uses its handheld camera very efficiently from start to finish. I have not had an opportunity to see the American remake Quarantine. However, I can only speculate that the spirit of the original is painfully lost.
To some, the beginning of the film may seem like a lost cause. There are moments that can feel meaningless. However, the viewer’s emotions are being played with in order to satisfy the director’s vision. The opening sequence of viewing the Firehouse and meeting the staff is not integral in the plot. However, it does allow the viewer to identify with the female lead. Her performance is good and believable. Lately, some of the more recent horror efforts out there, the acting seems to be less of a focal point. This is not the case with this film. Viewers actually care about the characters, even if they are only on the screen for a little over 70 minutes. The directors establish this with the profound use of the handheld camera.
The handheld camera is truly a great effect. Usually, directors use it to establish mood without dialogue. In this case, viewers are not privileged with any other shot. All of the characters are followed or chased by the camera throughout and viewers do not have a chance to recover. Usually, directors compensate with this shot selection with a more classical two shot or even a long shot to allow the viewer to digest what they have just seen. Unfortunately, viewers do not get any opportunity to catch their breath. Some people may find the camera disorienting and give up on the film before it even starts. If you can stomach the prowling camera, this film will not disappoint.
Another appeal of this film is the lack of knowledge the viewer is given. Most formulaic horror films have the same pathetic arc. The leads are introduced, the problem is introduced, the problem’s background is given, the problem terrorizes the characters, the solution to the problem is given and then the characters prevail. [Rec] provides some of these criteria, but not all of them. This is uncommon with horror to limit the audience with answers. Viewers think they know what the problem is, but do they? Some of the classic techniques are used, but then they are jettisoned just as easily as introduced. This is why the climax of the film is so impactful. Viewers are expecting one thing and they get something completely different. (I am very vague with this portion of the column and for that I apologize. I hate the idea of ruining the endings or surprises throughout).
Overall, the experience is remarkable. Throughout the entire film you will find yourself wondering what is next. The camera moves very slowly at times and these are the moments that can be the most frightening. The unfortunate result in a positive foreign film experience is that an American counterpart needs to be created. Suspiria and Oldboy are now being remade into American films and the films will inevitably be terrible. Unfortunately them, they will be guilty until proven innocent. Go out and buy [Rec], it does not and will not disappoint.