April 19, 2012

[Rec]² (2009)

Found footage as a narrative style became quite popular after the release of "The Blair Witch Project" in 1999. This narrative device, which consists in presenting the film as the discovered evidence of a story, soon found many filmmakers willing to experiment with it, sometimes with bad results, but also sometimes with remarkable ones. "[Rec]", a Spanish horror film directed y Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, and released in 2007, rightfully belongs to this last category. Essentially a zombie film, "[Rec]" narrated the story of a reporter and her cameraman as they end up trapped in a building where people had been infected with a disease that transformed them in voracious cannibal monsters. Narrated from the point of view of the camera, the film managed to translate successfully the tension and intensity of the horror film to a first person narrative. Not surprisingly given the film's success, talks for a sequel began quite soon, and Balagueró and Plaza returned to the apartment in 2009 for "[Rec]²".

Beginning right after the first "[Rec]" ended, "[Rec]²" opens up outside the building, where Dr. Owen (Jonathan D. Mellor), an official from the Ministry of Health, enters the quarantined apartment building along a four-man Special Operations team. They all have cameras mounted on their helmets, plus one of them, Rosso (Pablo Rosso), carries another camera to document the findings. At the building, Owen and his team face off the infected people, and Owen decides to employ prayer to stop them, revealing he is actually and agent from the Vatican sent to get a blood sample from patient zero, the Medeiros girl. At the same time, a man (Pep Molina) is trying desperately to enter the building. He is the father of Jennifer, the girl from the first "[Rec]"; and he manages to convince one of the firefighters (Juli Fàbregas) to help him enter. Three teenagers, Tito, Mire and Uri (Pau Poch, Andrea Ros and Àlex Batllori) follow them, not knowing that they are about to enter a nightmare.

In "[Rec]²", writers Balagueró and Plaza are now joined by Manu Diéz in an attempt to make a story that expands upon the mythology set by the first film while at the same time moves the plot to a different direction. For starters, "[Rec]²" firmly establishes demonic possession as the root of the infection, enhancing the religious undertones that the first movie only hinted at. This angle is particularly interesting, as the writers develop the theme into a captivating set of myths that give the "[Rec]" series a well defined identity of its own. Also, and as expected given the fact that the protagonists are now members of an elite tactical team, action takes a greater importance in the story. While the first "[Rec]" was based on the suspense of the reporters discovering the unknown, "[Rec]²" is now based on whether the soldiers will accomplish their mission. The way the writers have tied the film to the first one is also clever, though the addition of teenage characters for comic relief is one terrible mistake.

As written above, "[Rec]²" sees the series moving to a more action-oriented kind story, and in terms of style this is reflected in the frantic the narrative has. The new gimmick is the use of helmet-mounted cameras, giving the opportunity to see what each member of the special unit sees. In practical terms, this allows for a perspective similar to first person shooter video games, which works pretty good in the context of the new tone the film has, which has traded suspense for action (though the result is as tension-filled as the original "[Rec]"). In fact, the change from suspense to action is comparable to what James Cameron did in his sequel to "Alien". Once again cinematographer Pablo Rosso is placed inside the action, this time as a member of the special units (naturally, the one carrying the bigger camera), and while his work is perhaps difficult to appreciate (given the fast rhythm of his shaky cam), once again he has constructed a somber claustrophobic atmosphere in this apartment building.

Acting in the film is effective, though nothing really surprising. Perhaps it's because the characters aren't well developed, or the fact that now many of them have a camera, but there isn't really any performance that could leave a lasting impression. That is, only until Manuela Velasco returns as reporter Angela Vidal and steals the show. As Dr. Owen, Jonathan D. Mellor is good, though perhaps a bit overacted in his role of the Vatican agent willing to do anything to complete the mission. Óscar Zafra, as the leader of the Special Units team, has a commanding presence but the rest of the team members lack a personality of their own. Pep Molina fares better as Jennifer's father, desperate to save his family, not knowing about the horrors that have been unleashed inside the building. The three teenagers, Andrea Ros, Alex Batllori and Pau Poch are pretty poor in their performances, and represent perhaps the weakest element in "[Rec]²".

While in many ways Balagueró and Plaza have succeeded in this expansion to their original hit, "[Rec]²" has also some flaws that bring it down a bit in terms of quality. Certainly, the expansion to the "[Rec]" myths that the film does is a pretty clever twist to the zombie concept, as the religious themes of demonic possession make for pretty interesting interpretations to the movie. However, the inclusion of the three teenagers subplot is somewhat tacky, as it breaks from the mood established in the film, not to mention that the characters are poorly developed and badly acted, ending up as an annoying addition to the plot. Truly a tragically failed attempt at comic relief, as the film would be a lot better without them. As written above, the characters aren't that well developed, a trait it shares with the predecessor, though at least the first "[Rec]" had an iconic figure in Angela Vidal. Sadly, "[Rec]²" isn't that lucky in this aspect.

Despite its problems, "[Rec]²" is a worthy addition to the series, specially due to the fact that directors Balagueró and Plaza have managed to expand their concept without losing the edge and intensity the original had. The change from suspense to action is a nice move, and given the fact "[Rec]²" is about expanding the rules set by the first film, it was perhaps the logical development of the first person concept. Granted, the film is a tad inferior to the original, but it's still a powerful and captivating experience that continues the storyline and unveils more information about the virus. With a claustrophobic atmosphere and fast-paced action, "[Rec]²" is a worthy entry in Spanish horror.


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