Wednesday, July 07, 2010

[REC]2: The Long Night Continues

When a reality TV crew accompanied a team of firemen on a call to a zombie-infested apartment building, the footage they [REC]orded could have been the scoop of the year. That fateful night did not work out so well for them, but directors Jaime Balagueró and Paco Plaza contrived ways for more video cameras to enter the damned building in [REC]2 (trailer here), the sequel to their breakout cult Spanish horror hit, which opens in New York this Friday.

Picking up right where the first [REC] left off, the Spanish authorities are tired of playing around, establishing an airtight quarantine around the building. An elite SWAT unit is sent into the hot zone under the command of the mysterious Doctor Owen, who does not suffer fools gladly. At first, they assume they are there to reconnoiter and find their fallen colleagues. However, Owen has a more dangerous assignment for them: track down patient zero and extract a blood sample.

It turns out Owen does not work for the Spanish health ministry. He takes his orders straight from the Vatican, and the events transpiring in the building fall within their purview. While the details are sketchy, it becomes evident the outbreak resulted from a top secret scientific research project involving demonic possession. Needless to say, things went wrong, resulting in all Hell breaking loose.

Clearly, Balagueró and Plaza understand it is not what we see, but what we do not see that scares us in horror movies. That is why their use of hand-held shaky cams and night vision are so effective in the [REC] films. When the SWAT team starts poking around pitch dark attics, it is frankly pretty intense stuff. However, their decision to split the narrative of R2 actually breaks the tension that had been so effectively mounting in the first half hour.

Given the constraints of its POV format and the nature of the attacking hordes storyline, it is difficult for a film like R2 to develop character with any particular depth. There is no time to establish much back-story and the cameras do not have enough battery power to waste recording it anyway. Yet, Jonathan Mellor definitely stands out, investing the driven Dr. Owen with an arrogant charisma not unlike that of Peter Cushing’s classic Dr. Frankenstein. The balance of the cast is not a memorable lot though, essentially serving as grist for the Hell-spawned zombie mill.

The building itself is quite a creepy backdrop for the madness exploding therein and the film nicely blends its Exorcist-style religious horror themes with the trappings of science run amok monster movies. As is usually the case with the horror genre, its climax is something of a letdown, breaking Balagueró and Plaza’s carefully crafted spell by showing way to much of the unfathomable evil entity. Still, there are more than enough genuinely scary moments in this film to satisfy anyone who enjoys a really good horror movie. Cleverer and scarier than its predecessor, [REC]2 opens Friday in New York at the Village East.