[Rec]2 (aka Rec 2) (2009)

[Rec]2 first published by Film4

Summary: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza return to direct this nerve-shredding sequel to Rec (and its quickie US remake Quarantine), further documenting the twists and turns of an unfolding demonic apocalypse.  

Review: The original Rec (2007), with its terrifying tale of resident evil in a Barcelona apartment building, may have been entirely genre-bound, but Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza innovated by framing their horror through the authenticating device of a TV reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her unseen cameraman (the film’s DP Pablo Rosso) who just happened to be on the scene as the zombie outbreak took hold, documenting every frenzied moment on their well-equipped camcorder. In this respect Rec resembled other shaky-cam faux-reportage horror films – The Blair Witch Project (1999), Diary of the Dead (2007), Paranormal Activity (2007), Cloverfield (2008) – but where those films purported to be ‘found footage’, recorded under horrific circumstances, and watched only after the event, there were irrational hints in Rec that what we were watching was not a recording, but the viewfinder’s blow-by-blow presentation of events as they unfolded, so that even non-recordable elements of the camera’s operation (e.g. the sight of images playing backwards and then forwards again as the characters incredulously rewind and rewatch on the viewfinder what they have just filmed) were included to paradoxical effect. Here the camera was not just a documentary device, but a ‘live’, if not quite living, eyewitness – a ghost in the machine that haunted every moment of the film.  

It is a trick which the filmmakers repeat and expand to uncanny effect in their sequel [Rec]2. Not only do we see a camera’s battery indicator onscreen (information which again appears only on a camera’s viewfinder as it films, rather than burnt into the finished recording), but this time there are also several cameras in the building – four high-tech ones attached to the helmets of a SWAT team, a domestic camera carried by a trio of gatecrashing teens, the original TV crew’s camcorder – so that the film’s narrative focus is able to jump through space (and eventually time as well) to any of the different cameras’ viewfinders, in a visual analogue to the ease with which the film’s demonic antagonist passes from one human ‘puppet’ to the next. It is a diabolical edit, controlled only in part by the SWAT team’s camera expert Rosso (again ‘played’ by DP Pablo Rosso), and gradually entrapping characters and viewers alike in the unseen gaps of its narrative leaps. Here the end is inscribed (for those with the eyes, or at least the right footage, to see) in the beginning, and the camera can in fact, as the Vatican’s on-scene agent Dr Owen (Jonathan Mellor) declares, “reveal hidden things, things we didn’t see before.” 

  Where Rec started slow, building gradually to the dissolution of an ordinary-seeming night into total, hysterical pandemonium, this sequel begins in medias res and hits the ground (floor) running, as Owen and his SWAT escort enter the quarantined building and race upstairs to the penthouse that accommodated the first film’s heart-stopping climax. Like the rest of the building, it appears at first to be empty, with only the blood in the stairwell and the warmth of a recently played reel-to-reel tape recorder offering any telltale signs of the nightmare that unfolded just minutes earlier – but as this increasingly panicky team encounters what remains of the downstairs residents, it will also repeatedly return to the upper level, even as the film’s narrative keeps rewinding to the primal scene where the seeds of destruction were first sown. For lurking in the trapdoors, passages and secret rooms upstairs where Dr Owen hopes to find humanity’s salvation, someone – or something – also waits in the shadows, as desperate to get out as the surviving humans.  

It would be all too easy to dismiss [Rec]2 as an empty pastiche of The Exorcist (1973), The Thing (1982) and the entire zombie subgenre, but that would be to overlook just how unremittingly frightening an experience it is to sit through. Balagueró and Plaza may put their influences out in the open, but what they conceal though sheer mastery of pace and tension is their considerable art, kept hidden in the dark – or at least in camera. 

Verdict: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s faux-reportage sequel masterfully remixes multiple ‘live’ feeds to show a devil lost in the detail and determined to get out 

© Anton Bitel