Undoubtedly one of the better (if not the best) of the found footage horror genre, [REC] bloodily lurched onto the scene with lashings of style and some monumental jump scares – but most importantly of all (and I can’t stress this enough) it was fucking scary.
Leaping onto the trend of utilising zombies that could qualify for track and field events due to their impressive speed, directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza built on the work of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake to give us the butthole-tightening tale of an apartment building in Barcelona that is sealed off due to an apparent virus outbreak, only for its denizens, a couple of firemen and a reality tv crew to realise that they’re trapped at ground zero for what could be a full blown zombie outbreak.
Due to it’s tight concept, a stark dedication to genuine scares and a legitimately unnerving ending, fans unsurprisingly clamoured for a sequel and in 2009 they got one. But could a follow up manage to keep things rolling?
Literally minutes after we saw reporter Ángela Vidal’s screaming face dragged off into the darkness by the eerie illumination of a night vision camera, a three man SWAT team and a representative from the Ministry Of Health enter the building in order to find a way to stem the infection of screaming, animalistic zombie people that’s sprung up throughout the apartments inhabitants. However, what we already know, thanks to what was hinted at during [REC]s final moments, is that this is no ordinary (?) zombie infestation and that the shrieking ghouls that lurk in the building are a direct result of first-hand research into demonic possession that’s gone spectacularly tits up.
As the SWAT team slowly start to understand the severity of their top secret mission, they’ll have to wander through the entire building, fending off the undead while trying to find a particular vial of blood that hopefully will lead to a cure.
Meanwhile, outside the building, a worried father and a fireman both anxious about the safety of friends and family inside have decided to infiltrate the quarantine zone through a way in unknown to the authorities. Followed by a group of bored teens looking for mischief who have (you guessed it) also handily brought along a camcorder to record their exploits, the group of five also get trapped in the building and have to fight their way through the possessed/infected creatures in order to join up with what’s left of the SWAT team.
But there’s one more twist. Appearing late in the game, when all seems lost and exhausted camera batteries are due to run out, is the missing Ángela – where has she been and how did she survive her encounter with the monstrous Tristana Medeiros, the emaciated, hammer wielding, patient zero of this whole damn mess?
Taking the well trodden Aliens route while sequelizing their hit, directors Balaguéro and Plaza have thankfully managed to keep that choking, relentless tension that made [REC] so awesomely oppressive mostly in place. There’s always a danger that when you introduce men with guns into your tightly edited world of drooling creatures you run the risk of turning your villains into nothing more than disposable cannon fodder and thus diluting the scares, but the switch from zombie movie to full blown possession flick manages to deflect this nicely.
Displaying a random bunch of powers not seen in the original, the zombies can now be spoken through by the head demon like an unholy tannoy speaker and, at one point, can even scuttle on the ceiling like a spider and while some undead aficionados may snootily declare this as “cheating” by the filmmakers (an actual complaint I once heard in person), this progression into Aliens meets The Exorcist territory keeps things fresh despite being set in a location that’s already been mined for an entire movie already.
Plus, giving the leads an actual mission (they’re on a mission from god, technically, but I don’t think that qualifies them as honorary Blues Brothers) means there’s slightly more urgency and the return of previous lead Manuela Velasco as a camera slowly gets her into focus as she fittingly cradles a digital camcorder like she’s the Virgin Mary is a legitimately great moment.
However, the driving momentum is slightly derailed thanks to the B-plotline that rudely kicks in at the halfway point. While switching from one obsessive filmer to another is handy to keep things interesting, the second plot actually adds nothing to the story whatsoever and basically means we have to watch an entirely new set of characters get brought up to speed for a second time in the same movie. It also doesn’t help that the three kids who turn up seem to have been written in for no other reason other than the film needed another someone who would be convincingly filming stuff for no reason and that they are incredibly punchable from the second they come on screen.
While this isn’t fatal to the rest of the movie, there is a feeling that the final fifteen minutes are not much more than a retread of the original’s ending as everyone heads up to the penthouse for yet another pow-wow with the horrifically skeletal Tristana (once again stunningly played by cinema’s go-to spindly guy, Javier Botet), but a final twist manages to just about get things back on track.
Ultimately, [REC]² manages to vault these problems well enough to still be a worthy sequel to the fabulous first film even if it admittedly loses some of its purity – it’s just a shame that with such an intriguing ending, the franchise lost some of its forward momentum by playing around with the tone a bit too much. Still, for found footage, zombie actioners that feels more like a survival horror video game than ever before, [REC]² is pretty tough to beat thanks to its continuing dose of digital death.