Yes. I know it’s a five year old film, but I’m exercising my film reviewing muscles. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while on the blog. I even considered starting a separate blog just for film reviewing, but why go to all that trouble? Besides, these are intended to be more than just simple reviews (5 stars!! A fun night out for the whole family!), instead being jumping off points for me to ramble about various stuff, and hey, it’s about writing as often as possible.
Last night I finally saw [REC] the Spanish horror film from 2007 that seems to make so many best-of lists. I admit to being a fan of horror movies, but it’s a rare occasion that a genuinely frightening film comes along. Perhaps I’m too old to be shocked or scared any more? Seen too many old tricks and over-used tropes. It’s a personal quest of mine to find one that brings back that feeling of being completely unsettled. I think the last film to do that was The Descent in the cinema.
I’m afraid to say [REC] didn’t quite tingle the spine in the way I hoped it might. I’ll admit that the last fifteen minutes are pretty terrifying as the situation becomes ever more hopeless and the only method of seeing is through a video camera’s night vision viewfinder. Everything up until that point, while entertaining enough, gruesome and undeniably well put-together seemed fairly pedestrian. Perhaps if I’d seen it at the time it might have had more impact, arriving as it did at the forefront of the whole ‘found-footage’ genre overtaking the cinema experience. Unfortunately, I would not have been able to watch this in the cinema with its motion-sickness inducing hand-held camera-work. At times the screen is shaking so violently it feels like your eyes are spinning in their sockets. It’s an intentional device, of course, to disorientate you, but it’s the kind of device that made me walk out of the cinema after forty minutes of The Bourne Ultimatum.
That is not my biggest complaint about found-footage movies. The main problem with them, which I think is an overwhelming problem, is the issue of how to tell a story like that and make it believable that the person holding the camera would still be holding the camera instead of using it to bash the hideous creature that is trying to rip their throat out. Or, indeed, just dropping the cumbersome, pointless hindrance and running for their life. I guess I’ll call it the ‘dumping point’, i.e. the point where your own self-preservation would absolutely outweigh the desire to keep on filming. This is particularly relevant in Cloverfield where there is no real reason to still be filming from the point everything starts turning chaotic, and the shots that are achieved are far too perfect and contrived to beliveably be someone running for their life. Blair Witch to an extent also suffers from this in its later sequences. The Paranormal Activity movies find a way to get around that with the use of static security cameras, but the way the footage is edited on screen for the benefit of the audience is rather contrived, and there is still handheld work in those films that I can’t believe would be continuing, or even employed in the first place in various scenes.
In [REC] the dumping point comes fairly late on, as there is an internal logic for the filming to continue. The main character, Ángela, continually exhorts her cameraman to keep filming everything, and to his bloody-minded credit he certainly does that. And in the final section, the camera becomes the tool for their ability to see in the dark, which is a clever device for allowing the filming to continue logically and enabling the audience to see what matters. But it’s irrelevant, as earlier on there is a point where the cameraman is right in the middle of an attack, and there is no way the camera would still be in his hands and filming.
The film does have a realistic feeling of chaos and tension, and the claustrophobia in the final scenes is convincing. But here comes my second complaint, although it’s not so much a complaint and more of a general wondering about zombie films.
[REC] is a zombie film. I don’t care what arguments people make for it ‘not technically being a zombie film’. The creatures in it look like and behave like zombies. In the same way that the creatures in 28 Days Later aren’t technically zombies, but they still have overwhelming zombie characteristics. In these zombie films, and I think this applies to pretty much every one, they all exist in an world where there are no zombie films. In every other aspect they reflect our world, complete with pop culture references and everything else, but each one exists independently from each other, and in a vacuum of zombie films or fiction.
These days, in a time when we are obsessed with the shambling flesh-eaters to the point of an almost unironic belief that a zombie apocalypse might actually happen, it seems strange to make any new film where the world represented is a world with no zombie films or literature or video games. Okay, [REC] is five years old, but even then zombie-mania was already starting to reach saturation point, if not quite at the level it is currently. I question how many more zombie fiction/films etc. can be produced without addressing this. Or are we really at the saturation point already? Can anything new be done? I have the [REC] sequel to watch as well, which looks like a video game with its take on the found-footage thing being confined to soldier’s helmet-cams. The second sequel is out now as well and looks frankly ridiculous.
[REC] didn’t become that horror film to end my search for something original and disturbing. It’s entertaining, and an above-par entry to the whole found-footage horror genre.