The gimmicky first-person POV utilized to chilling effect in 2008’s [Rec] (as well as in its virtual shot-for-shot stateside remake Quarantine) may have lost its novelty over the past two years, but it again supplies a frighteningly limited, visceral perspective on unholy carnage in [Rec] 2. Picking up mere minutes after the events of its predecessor, à la Halloween II, Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s film initially assumes the faux-verité gaze of a pro cameraman accompanying a SWAT team to the Barcelona apartment building where a contagious virus has turned people mad. (Spoilers herein.)
Or demonic, actually, since a priest (posing as a health ministry doc) who joins the tactical squad on the mission reveals that those weird newspaper clippings seen briefly at the conclusion of [Rec] in the residence’s penthouse apartment all concerned a possessed 11-year-old girl whom the Vatican had endeavored to scientifically study in order to isolate—and find an antidote for—the biological underpinnings of her satanic condition. Thus, the specific task at hand is to find the girl’s blood, a quest habitually interrupted by hungry zombie-like psychos looking to transmit the virus via healthy bites of flesh.
Despite eventually switching over to the mini DV camera of some kids who’ve snuck into the building, as well as to first-person-shooter views from soldiers’ helmet-cams, the film’s jittery aesthetic is consistent in both style and effect. Obscured vantage points, sudden cuts to black, inhuman shadowy figures lurking just out of clear eyesight, and audio that goes reverb-shrieky when villains get up-close-and-personal with the cameraman—or, better yet, goes ear-ringing blunt when the camera’s mic is whacked, creating a sonic approximation of the dull viciousness of terror—all contribute to nerve-jangling immediacy. Still, by nature of its story, which thrusts one into the mayhem sans proper setup, [Rec] 2’s pace is more jagged than its slowly climaxing predecessor, and it ultimately has less to say about a modern culture (cinematic and in general) obsessed with the act of watching/recording.
Culminating in a ferocious finale that uses night-vision cinematography to generate tension by further limiting our—and the characters’—perspective on the proceedings, the film’s action is considerably scarier and more taut this time around, despite the fact that the directors have opted to expand on the original by doing the very thing usually responsible for deflating fear: providing a lucid, concrete explanation for their monsters’ origins. That answer comes in the form of Exorcist-style Catholicism that’s a tad stale and too interested in setting up an unavoidable trilogy-capper, but is nonetheless executed with such tantalizing mystery and fierce foreboding, not to mention consistency with the first chapter’s more ambiguous narrative, that familiarity never proves a pesky hindrance. Moreover, in its portrait of unspeakable bio-malevolence spawned not from secular curiosity, but from the church’s misuse of science and, notably, mistreatment of young children, it also effectively slips in a dash of sly commentary to complement its scintillating horror.