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cast: Manuela Velasco, Javier Botet, Manuel Bronchud, Martha Carbonell, and Claudia Font

directors: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza

85 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Angela Vidal is a reporter working on a local TV program covering what goes on in Barcelona whilst most citizens are asleep. On screen she's a perky, cheerful, artfully dim host and off, she's a hard-nosed journalist all too aware that she needs to bring stories in that are interesting. Unfortunately, covering a fire station on the graveyard shift is about as far from interesting as it gets, until Angela and her cameraman Pablo follow a crew sent out to assist an old lady trapped in her apartment. Accompanying firemen Manu and Alex (Ferran Terraza and David Vert) into the building, she and Pablo watch as something impossible happens, unaware that their night is only just beginning.

[REC] shares a common theme with Cloverfield: the idea of the camera as character, but their approaches quickly and rapidly differ. Whilst Cloverfield used the technique to tell a very small piece of a larger story, [REC] takes a small story and makes it even smaller. We are in the apartment building, with the characters, we're constantly witness to the same horrors they are and there is absolutely no escape both from the building and, after a while, the sneaking suspicion that something terrible is just out of eyeshot. There's one moment in particular where someone has been shot and the camera deliberately lingers, not only on the hall they've run down and their body, but also on the way in which people obscure the body that's almost unbearably tense, and it's far from alone. Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza plays with the audience to tremendous effect and the constant ramping of tension is beautifully played. There are echoes of the excellent Right At Your Door, as well as, inevitably, Cloverfield in terms of style and approach but ultimately this is a very personal, very dark piece of survival horror.

It's helped immensely by the performances with Velasco in particular a surprisingly weighty lead. Angela's transformation over the course of the film from a bored, slightly arrogant journalist into a woman attacking the story and situation like a pitbull is very nicely played and gives the final half hour in particular weight. Likewise, the apartment residents are all well-rounded, interesting individuals with Maria Lanau particularly good as the mother of a child in the building whose father is outside. Special mention must also be made of Terraza, whose Manu is a consistently likable everyman figure throughout.

The real star here though is the concept and direction. Unbearably tense from less than 15 minutes in, [REC] is an exercise in audience control that has to be seen to be believed. Relentless, horrific and strangely human for all that it's a tremendous achievement and the imminent US remake, Quarantine, has a tough act to follow. Recommended.

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