Well, I made it to a press screening yesterday, but this time it was watching the movie, not missing it, that was disappointing. [Rec] 2 (which opens July 9) doesn’t suck, but it does suffer from sequelitis.
The original took the idea of making a horror movie feel real by filming it as if it were shot by one of the victims on handheld video and ran with it—literally. A lot of people have tried this since The Blair Witch Project, but none as well as [Rec], whose increasingly panicked Pablo (Pablo Rosso, never seen), a cameraman from a TV news program, darts up and down the winding stairs and in and out of the maze-like apartments of a creaky old Barcelona apartment building, following a gutsy young reporter, Manuela (Ángela Vidal) and two firemen, then one, then…Pablo and Manuela set out that night to shoot a news feature on the firemen, who were called in to protect the residents huddled in the lobby from—what, exactly? Zombie-like residents of the building rush out at intervals to attack the living, converting them with some sort of virus that’s transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. That’s all anyone seems to know (this infection is brand new), but it’s enough to make the health department seal off the building, effectively sentencing all its living residents to a gruesome death and a busy afterlife.
The sound effects do most of the emotional work in [Rec], layering the shrieks of the undead, the creaks and groans of an old building, and the ragged breath and panicked whispers or screams of the living to create an atonal symphony of dread. Music is used sparingly and well, including an old LP that starts to play now and then, luring people into an apparently empty apartment. Expert editing and a smart script ease us nicely into the story and then shift deftly between panicky powwows and flurries of action, all the while maintaining the illusion of raw footage shot on the run with a camera that periodically fuzzes out, gets almost unwatchably shaky, or frames a senseless image while recording dramatic sound after Pablo drops it. And when Pablo switches to infrared to save his camera’s dying battery, the blank eyes and creepy skin tones his lens shows us just make things that much weirder.
[Rec] 2 picks up a few minutes after Rec left off. Three members of a hyped-up SWAT team are preparing to go into the building under the command of a civilian official, on a mission they don’t yet understand. The cops record everything with mini videocams attached to their helmets, and when they first enter the building it’s thrilling to see the old place just as we left it, bloodstains, broken chains, and all.
The sequel has some nice new touches, including Manuela’s inevitable yet surprising reappearance and an eerie twist on looking through the infrared sensor. I also liked how three teenagers who enter the place on a dare pick up a gun and then have no clue how to use it, firing at random or shooting a friend by mistake. It’s nice to see someone subvert that gun-glorifying movie convention of civilians picking up their first piece to become instant Rambos.
But horror movies depend a lot on the shock of the new to be effective, and [Rec] 2, which feels too long at just 84 minutes, recycles too many old tricks. The sounds are as scary as ever, if not more so, but the bits with the camera are starting to feel too gimmicky. Several pans that are drawn out to milk maximum suspense just feel painfully slow—and shatter the illusion of reality that the rest of the film works so hard to create (surely no cop would be that slow to check out a space where a raging corpse is likely to be hiding). In the end, there’s just too much footage of one small group after another—first the cops, then the kids—starting out clueless, running up and down those stairs and in and out of those rooms, and winding up terrorized or undead.
But what really lost me was the secret of what makes the apartment’s residents act so crazy. [Rec] 2 reveals it early on, moving this movie into another supernatural genre (I won’t tell you which, in case you plan to see it). You might like that kind of movie, but I happen not to be one of its fans. I just can’t suspend disbelief far enough to stay with it.
Elise Nakhnikian has been writing about movies since the best way to learn about them was through alternative weeklies. She is currently the movie reviewer for TimeOFF. She also has her own blog, Girls Can Play, and a Twitter account.